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Leaving for Vietnam

None of us could know, of course, if that would be the last time we would ever see each other again in this world.  Being barely 20, I was, by the nature of the youthful beast, the least concerned in that matter.  I was beginning an adventure.  I was utterly ignorant of what lay ahead.  At best, I had a typical young male's sense of the "romantic" ideas of going off to war.  They were vague, as all such ideas are.  It would only be a matter of days before the reality of war hit home with a violence I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams.  By the 22nd of January I was in Khe Sanh and the Tet Offensive had begun in earnest.  A natural hell had broken loose and I was in the middle of it.

Looking back on that goodbye at Kennedy airport, I was struck by a powerful oddity.  My mother, who could cry at commercials on t.v. did her heroic best to hold them back and to send me off with an anxious smile.  My father, who I had only seen cry once before, at his father's funeral, had great tears welling at the borders of his eyes.  

My mother must have been filled with all of the emotions that only a woman can feel for the child she carried in her womb, nursed at her breast, and supported through the innocence of toddler-hood.  My dad, on the other hand, had been in the service during WWII.  He had a much clearer sense than any of us of what I was heading off into.  His concerns had the sharp edges of reality in them.  He shook my hand and embraced me with the other arm, telling me to be careful.  He said, "I love you."  He was, in his own way, a stoic man.  He did not say that phrase flippantly, like so many do.

As young as I was, the seriousness and the sadness they both felt did not enter me consciously until after I had encountered the reality of war personally.  They are both gone now.  We were lucky to have had a long life to share with each other after my return from hell.   We had a lot of living to do, and things to accomplish with our lives.  What I learned about the preciousness of life and of life's relationships, through the experience of war made life much more meaningful for me in the long run.  I can say that my life has been blessed.  Thank God.

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