It was a very hot, early July weekday. We were at Ft. Knox, trying to be cool with our single window air conditioner. My Dad came home a little early that afternoon, dressed in his fatigues. We were all in the kitchen when Dad said, “I’ve just received orders to go to Vietnam.” Indeed, you could have heard a pin drop.. Then there were tears, hugs,and loud voices. My Mom went to their bedroom, my 13 year old sister, sprinted out the door. I was sitting on top of the washer and through tear filled eyes looked at my Dad and realized how this news affected him as well. Then we hugged in silence.
Time to pack up and move again, as that aspect of our lives continued at its normal rate. That was all that was normal. Going to a new school was typical but it was a civilian school, would they know other Army BRATs, or would I stick out as a peculiar entity?
Dad was off for training at Bragg and came home as often as he could. Those weekends were filled with family day trips, special meals, and were filled with the large elephant in the room, which none of us spoke of.
THE day arrived in the middle of October. Dad dressed in khakis, and the ladies of the family in their Sunday best. We arrived at Dulles early and we talked about the massive airport, did Dad have enough magazines to read, wondered what fare he’d be fed during the very long flight.
It was time to board the bus that would take him to the plane, and would take him away from the safety and love at home. Many hugs and kisses were exchanged with positive smiles as he boarded the bus. There is a photo in my head, taken with grieving eyes, of him standing at the back of the bus, smiling and waving good bye. No true photograph could be as clear as that one.
The plane was some distance away yet we stayed at the large glass windows waving and smiling until it took flight. Then the tears flooded our little group and we headed out to the car to drive home.
A year is made up of 365 days, and so began the countdown. Each marked another day closer to his return. A large map of Vietnam was placed near the front door. Other friends had also received orders that year so their places of assignment were marked as well as Dad’s. Every Friday with the evening news brought that week’s toll of killed, wounded for both sides of the war. How could so many die and still have a country?
School turned out to be wonderful and we made friends with so many. None were Military BRATs, but their lives were familiar with the moving every few years, so I was welcomed. At lunch every day, someone would call out, “How many days?” This referred to how many days until Dad’s return. I would reply immediately as those coming days had become more important than ever before.
Three weeks to go with Dad having enough combat hours to come home almost a week early. I think the anxiety was at its highest at this time because everyone knew that the short timers seemed to be at the greatest risk of injury or death. We did not talk about that, just held that angst to ourselves. Mom became very sick with s high fever that wouldn’t break. I placed her in the tub with cold towels to try and cool her, lots if iced drinks, aspirin every four hours around the clock. Was it possible I could lose both parents at the same time?
After two weeks, the fever was over and no negative word from Vietnam. Yes! Hope began to inch its way in. Then one afternoon, the doorbell rang. I looked out the peep hole and saw an officer dressed with ribbons galore. He had a stern look and then I began to cry. No, not this close to his return home! No, it just can’t be. I called out for Mom to come to the door as I opened it.
It was a friend of the family who had just returned home. But all I saw through the peep hole was a military officer with likely bad news. I think my heart might have stopped briefly as all the possibilities flooded my mind.
Each day crept by slowly until we returned to Dulles to be reunited with Dad. We were each dressed in what we thought would please Dad most. The parking lot was pretty full but the excitement that filled our beings, was not phased by the added distance to walk. We approached the escalators which would take us to the appropriate floor. Tugging at our dresses, running our fingers through our hair in order to look our best for the next 30 minutes when Dad would arrive. I was the first on that escalator as my excitement was barely contained.
As we created the top, what to my wondering eyes was another Army officer. Then I saw his face and it was Dad! I don’t remember running to him, but I did and we shared the biggest hug! Thrilled, happy, excited barely describe the emotions that flooded our reunion. Words were spoken but not really heard, as jumped up and down.
New orders were in hand, and we’d be packing for our next home. New school to deal with, new friends to make, new home to make our own. These days, and perhaps then as well, all the changes might seem daunting to a civilian family, even fearful for parents and students alike. For me, the routine was welcomed as Dad came home with no physical trauma, so no matter what may come, we were a family again.