My Dad is a Vietnam Veteran. He served in the Air Force as an F-4 mechanic from 1965 to 1969. Though he did spend a good amount of time in Vietnam, most of his time overseas was spent in the Phillipines. When I was growing up, he rarely talked about his experiences over there. I saw a few pictures and heard a few stories, but most of them were rather lighthearted or humourous.
When I was 15, my parents and I took a summer vacation to Washington, DC. It was my first time there, and we were typical tourists, taking in as many historical attractions as we could. The day before we left, we went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I couldn't believe how big it was, bearing the names of all those people who died. There were several visitors that day, and the three of us got separated for a few minutes. I was wandering around, reading names, and looked up to see my Dad a few yards away. As I walked toward him, I saw his head was down. A big knot formed in my stomach. It was the only time I've ever seen him cry.
Being only 15, I didn't really know how to react. I just stood there, dumbfounded, and waited until Mom walked up. If I could go back to that time and place where my Father and I stood before that Wall, I would have hugged him and comforted him and held him until he stopped weeping. Even now, when I think about it, that same knot still forms in my stomach.
My Dad is also a big biker. Every year, he rides in a rally called Rolling Thunder, where bikers from all over the country ride to Washington, DC for Memorial Day weekend for various services, events, and a big parade. This year was no exception. He still has a hard time going to the Wall. He knew those men. They had families and hopes and dreams and lives. It doesn't matter anymore why they were there. Their names represent a wound in our history that is slowly healing. Just like my Dad.