No matter how many times you tell me it’s not my fault, I will never believe you. I know deep inside it’s the truth. I saw this photo today in the paper and it made me feel really bad. I still feel guilty. Yes, even after all these years. I was a stupid, dumb kid trying to get out of Vietnam. Doing the right thing was never in my vocabulary. You tried to plead with me but I never listened to anyone.
When my number came up to go to Vietnam I thought of every scheme, including running to Canada, but finally you and Dad broke me down and I went. I said I would go but in my head I was thinking of ‘every which way to leave.’
I was in the Army for about six months, six months was too long for me and I desperately wanted to get out. I had already seen a buddy of mine, Lou, lose a leg, have the docs bandage him up, re-shave his head while he recuperated and send him back out to some desk job. He WANTED to go back out, for his country. He had the choice to go home! I thought he was nuts.
After that I thought the world was crazy and the thought of serving in the Army became even more despicable to me. I already hated myself but that was nothing new. I started hating hatred. My logic was if I hated myself already, it really didn’t matter what I did from then on, right?
I had plotted schemes to get out from the first second I was here and I had no regrets. I chain smoked every damn unfiltered cigarette every second I could, one after another. Remember, as a kid my lungs had always been weak? I tried hard to make them collapse or do anything to get me the hell out of here.
Eventually after about six months I did get sick, so sick that one lung collapsed completely and the other was in bad shape. I was released and they didn’t even want me back. I was so weak I couldn’t stand up. I thought I’d be thrilled but I didn’t feel anything, nothing. Glad to get home, for sure, but not happy. I certainly didn’t feel like a man, I didn’t even want to leave my room. Mom was happy but Dad didn’t talk to me, not one word.
I married my girlfriend, Amy and we had our son, Jeff, your nephew and your niece Caroline. I worked at a car dealership for many years. The kids grew up too fast and yes, my own personal hell, Jeff wanted nothing but to join the Army the second he could enlist and he did. I begged him not to go but nothing was going to stop him.
He went to Afghanistan, where he wanted to be, front line, shooting enemies. Sometimes I thought it was all a big, bad dream. He was happy to be fighting for our country. I knew I had been a coward, I knew I had done the wrong thing, but yeah, life sure kicks you in the butt. Every day I waited to hear from the Army, every single day and night. My boy, who wanted to serve his country, who loved his country, killed in the line of duty, right after he got the Medal Of Honor. At least he got that much. Me and his mother have it hanging on the living room wall.
If it weren’t for Caroline, Amy and yes, you, I’d be joining my boy, that’s for darn sure.
PS I’ve enclosed a picture of your nephew that one of his friends sent me. I made a copy for you.