Half a Century After My Father’s Death in Vietnam
Few people today consider the Vietnam War to be anything other than a debacle. I do as well, on the fiftieth anniversary of my father’s death in that war.
The aircraft aboard which he was an aircrewman was shot down over a disputed island by the Cambodian Army. That island was disputed territory between South Vietnam and Cambodia. The aircraft was the only P-3 Orion aircraft ever lost in combat.
(my father’s on-line shadowbox, unfortunately incomplete, though many people who served in the Navy helped fill in some details)
At the time, Cambodia was neutral in respect to that war. Now of course we know that the US government had opened a secret and illegal front in the Vietnam War in Cambodia.
As a seven-year-old at the time, the geopolitics involved in the war were beyond my grasp. All I knew at the time was my father was serving his country. I did not know the civilian government was ordering things that are now known to be illegal.
The mission was simply to fly up and down the west coast of Indochina, with the goal of identifying arms-smuggling operations along the coastline to South Vietnam for the Viet Cong. A P-3, other than depth charges for a submarine, is an unarmed aircraft, and as such these were dangerous missions.
Some days later, as a seven-year-old child, I saw from our home the Navy staff car drive up, and even then knew precisely what that meant. My mother was unable to answer the door; it fell to me to do so.
Of course the senior chief and Navy chaplain were not going to convey their terrible message to a seven-year-old boy. My grandparents took that message.
I grew up without a father. I too joined the Navy, just as he and my mother had. I did not regret a career in the military, though I was concerned that when we were deployed in harm’s way that the reason was sound.
When I hear things today about mass-shooters or other criminals from conservative pundits or politicians attributed to “children raised without their fathers” I want to tear my hair out. Those sorts of arguments are simply deflection from studying the real problems of crime; single parents are not those problems. There are millions upon millions of children raised in single-parent homes who never engage in any sort of crime, and it’s an insult to all of us raised by single parents to claim we’re some sort of ticking time bomb just waiting to go off.
Today is Easter Sunday to western church Christians, the promise of new life through the resurrection of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels.
Today to me, the day is the fiftieth anniversary of loss in what we now know was an “unwinnable” war.
With dangerous people advising the president, if I was the sort of person who prayed, I would pray this Easter Sunday that the government never again goes down the dark path that was the Vietnam War. I would pray instead they follow the words of Isaiah 2:4 from the book they claim to love:
And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.