Monday, November 11, 2013

Thank You U.S. Veterans

I posted this last year to honor the Veterans in my life. It has since then won an award. Columbia University's 2013 Student Gold Circle Collegiate Award.

M8. Non-fiction interview1. Kirsten Clark, “5,000 mile man,” Indiana Daily Student, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN;
2. Kate McCullough, “Somalia,” Convergence, Humber College, Toronto, Ontario, Canada;
3. Megan Washausen, “Katy Sullivan,” The Ampersand, Webster University, St. Louis, MO;
CM. Matthew Glowicki, “Growing up together,” Indiana Daily Student, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN;
CM. Lynn Donovan, “The eleventh hour,” Telolith, Seward County Community College, Liberal, KS;
CM. Laura Petro, “Framed for Success,” The Walk, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.
What an honor for me, and for my Dad, whom this was written to honor in the first place. Daddy past away April 2005 and needless to say, we miss him very much.  So... This is for him and all of those who served in the Armed Forces.

Thank you for keeping us safe and free.
God bless you and protect you always.


TheEleventh Chapter

“I know I am going to Heaven
because I have already been to hell, in 1968.”
SSG Donald L Conant, Sr.
Retired Army DAV
Dad sent a surprise in the mail to each of us kids, but when my brother read it, he had a surprise for Dad. For months our dad had sat at the computer typing, crying, pacing, and staring into space. This was no labor of love. It was a confession of his soul. He wrote about the year he spent in Vietnam.
We knew very little about that year. All we knew was he had a pathological fear of having a flashback. At times it was debilitating. My siblings had seen him come home blanch-faced and mousey because he heard about a buddy “losing it” at a filling station. The buddy shot several people, killing them, because he thought he saw “gooks.” Loud noises and closed-in spaces terrified Dad. My sister and I laughed at him for years. While our brother, Donnie, stayed silent as if he understood.
Donnie hated it at times, because they couldn’t do the things other fathers and sons did, like hunting, because Dad couldn’t handle the affects it had on him. He tried once, I’ll give him that, but when they got into the woods, holding their guns at the ready, Dad had to stop. He was in tears as he apologized and hurried back to his truck. They drove home in silence. As soon as they were home, he went to bed. Donnie didn’t see him for three days. Mom said he was sleeping. But Donnie wondered what he had done. Still Donnie didn’t blame him.
After Dad typed his memoirs into the computer, he printed every gut-wrenching word onto tear-apart track paper, tore the perforated edges off, punched holes in it, and mounted each set in a black manuscript folder. He autographed them for each of us kids. At last, we could read the things he refused to tell any of us, his deepest, darkest secrets. Finally, we would know the causes for his insomnia, why he drank so much, and the reason why he dove into depression when I married a Filipino.
Dad had a comedic style for telling stories, so we expected humor mixed with seriousness, like watching a war movie. We had no idea what horrors would be revealed in this manuscript. A lump formed in my throat as I read his dedication.
My family, who I am sure suffered as others did, that had loved ones in Vietnam. I love them all and I thank them for their support and understanding.
I turned the page and began to read. I laughed and I cried throughout his stories. I couldn’t put the manuscript down. However, my brother had a very different reaction.
The words, the descriptions, the tales were vivid, graphic, and haunting, all the while, familiar to Donnie. How could they be so familiar to him? He knew this book was a project, suggested by the V.A. doctors, for Dad to gain control over the insanity he felt nipping at his heels every waking and sleeping moment.
But, when he read Chapter Eleven, he had to pick up the phone.
“Dad? I am reading your book,” Donnie told him. He didn’t know how to tell Dad what he knew, so he simply said, “You’ve told me these stories before.”
“No, son, I haven’t told anybody about these things. I just couldn’t talk about it.”
“No, you’re wrong. You told me these stories. I remember them distinctly.”
Silence crackled across the phone line.
“How could you remember?” he asked.
“I don’t know, but I do. I remember lying in a bed. You wore your straw cowboy hat. It lifted up as you pressed your head against the side rail. I remember the red indentation the metal made on your forehead. You talked to me for hours. I think that’s when you told me these stories—was I dreaming?” 
“Oh my god.” Dad’s voice broke into sobs.
“I wasn’t sure until I got to Chapter Eleven,” he said. “When I read about the local village being slaughtered, about the dead people everywhere, and you guys walking in on the mess.” He hesitated. Should he go on? Dad was already crying. He hadn’t heard Dad cry too many times in his life. It broke his heart. “Dad, when I read about the children strung upside down in the trees, their mutilated bodies, their Asian eye-lids sliced off and the grotesque death stare of each of them, I knew this was not anything you would talk about, yet I knew the story. How could I know these stories, Dad, if you didn’t tell them to me?”
He sniffed and blew his nose.
“Dad? Are you alright?”
“Son, when you were ten, you got sick.” He cleared his throat. “You were in a coma. The doctors told us you were dying. I told them, ‘Look here, I don’t wanna know what my son died from. I wanna know what’s killing him!’ Those doctors ‘bout wet themselves, yes-siring me and running off to figure out what was wrong with you.” He sniffed, and I heard ice clink against his large plastic cup. He took a long drink. He knew it was RC Cola. “The nurses were really nice. They told us to talk to you. Even though you were unconscious, just talk to you. About anything, it didn’t matter. Your mom and I thought they were crazy, but we were willing to try anything. So I sat down by your bed, and I talked. I didn’t know if you could hear me or not. Eventually, I ran out of things to say, and you still didn’t move, so I started talking about ‘Nam.”
Now Donnie sniffed. His tears wouldn’t stop flowing. Finally, he knew why he had empathized with Dad’s fears. He had told Donnie these stories, and Donnie had remembered. That was my brother’s surprise for Dad.
Although we lived in three different states, we were talking about the manuscript within a week. After Chapter Twenty-One, his final chapter, we understood why Dad couldn’t carry a gun in the woods. It was too similar to the jungle in Vietnam. A flashback really could be triggered without warning. After reading about those mutilated children, we understood why almond-shaped eyes, especially children’s, put a chill in his heart. We admired his ability to overcome this branded nightmare for the sake of his two Filipino grandchildren.
Our dad was, once again, our hero. He had survived a bloody, senseless “police action.” His memories had been his prisoner of war. Thank God the V.A. doctors had suggested he write them down. By doing so, he was able to set them free. He was able to let us know what he had been through. More importantly, he was able to face what he feared most—what we would think of him. He found out we still loved him. We did not judge him for what he had done, what he had seen, or what he did not do.
“Chapter Eleven was the toughest chapter to write,” he had told us. It required him to stand toe to toe with the devil and spit in his face. He feared it would break his sanity, yet he kept pecking the story onto the screen. It was the bravest thing our father ever did. Well, second bravest. The first was surviving Vietnam, 1968.
Personal note:  I love you Daddy! (deceased 4/13/2005)  Thank you Veterans. I appreciate and pray for you all the time. Gold Circle Awards