Monday, July 4, 2011

Photos From Vietnam

Airman 4 William Bullard
I recently came across some photos that I had never seen before that my Dad took while he was serving in the Air Force, including pictures from the Philippines and Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

Dad running in Vietnam

What is it about War that so often draws grown met back to it in their memories when they are nearing the end of their journey?  Is it that it was so terrible, that it transformed them, that it gave them perspective, that it “grew them up”, that it was something they regretted, or that it was something they were so proud to have done?

The only things I ever remember my dad telling me while I was growing up about his time in Vietnam was that it was a beautiful country to which he’d one day like to return and that his job there was guarding weapons on the night shift.  To keep himself awake during his shift, he often ran around the perimeter of the storage area he was guarding.  He said he hated it when his dog tags hit against his chest when he ran, and so, since he knew he had to have them on his person at all times, he just put them into his jock strap while he ran.

Dad at Clark AFB
A water buffalo in Vietnam ~ photo by BB

During the time that Dad was sick, though, on several occasions he talked about Vietnam and his time in the Air Force.  When he had the high fever that landed him in the hospital for the second and final time, he was hallucinating from the pain, the fever, and later from the medicine they gave him to try to relieve the first two.  As they often do in the hospital, a nurse asked him what his level of pain was on a scale of 1 to 10 when he was admitted.  Even around the time of his diagnosis and brain surgery, I’d never heard him say that his pain was more than a 7, but this time he said it was a 9.

We wanted the nurse to take note that his 9 was like most other people’s 109; he just didn’t notice pain like other people and, when he did, he didn’t complain about it or let it stop him from doing anything.  He immediately tried to retract the 9, though, by saying, “I don’t want to complain!  I don’t want to be a wimp!  Soldiers in trenches in Vietnam had their legs blown off and they could say their pain is a 9, but I shouldn’t say that!”  If anyone had asked me what the level of pain in my heart was on a scale of 1 to 10 at that time, I would have said a 10+. 

One thing I haven’t gotten to yet in this blog is that my family is also grieving for my dad’s mother, who died a little less than four months after my dad did.  Grandmom was fiercely independent, but she had been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for about three years.  She was very religious and, at 90 years old, was one of those people who has lived her life and was ready to go on ahead.  Thus, her passing brought us a different kind of grief.  Grief, still, though, and maybe there is more to come from her passing because we are still trying to move through the Quicksand of Grief after Dad’s death. 

Border between Laos and Vietnam ~ photo by BB
At Hundred Islands (Philippines)
"Sure beats a tent!" Dad wrote on the back of this one

"Market Place on Laos Border" ~ photo by BB

Monks in Vietnam ~ photo by BB

Mt. Lemmon Air Force Station ~ photo by BB

"Negrito at Negrito Village," Dad wrote on the back.
Radar Station at Mt. Lemmon AF Station ~ photo by BB
"Typical Thai family house," Dad noted on this one
The pictures I found were ones that he had mailed to his mother while he was overseas.  Like Grandmom did with all correspondence that she’d ever received, she filed those photos away for future reference, and they were part of what my parents saved from her house when they packed up her belongings when she moved into the nursing home. 

My dad’s mom wasn’t the kind of person who held children in her lap or spouted out frequent I love you’s or you’re so cute’s, but she was fiercely proud of her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren, and she let us know that in her own way.  I imagine her heart almost burst with pride and at the same time almost broke with fear and sadness many years ago when she watched her teenaged son board the bus that was bound for the Air Force base from where he was going to the Vietnam War.

 Grandmom wasn’t unloving or unemotional, she was practical:  when she told Dad goodbye when he left to go to Vietnam, she didn’t cry.  I asked her about it once, how it was to let him go into such a dangerous place, to go off to war, to go away on a journey that he might not come back from and from which he certainly wouldn’t come back as the same person.  She said, “I didn’t see the point of crying; crying seemed useless and wasteful, and I didn’t want to make him worry or feel badly that he had to go.  He was going, there was nothing I could do about it.  I just hoped and prayed that he would get there safely, and I made myself think about how wonderful it would be when I got to see him again.”

Ironic, because now that I think about what she said, I realize that those were the same words that went through my head on the day that my dad died.

You were a brave soldier to the end, Dad.  I hope you made it just fine and that it’s beautiful over there; I hope that you can tuck in your dog tags or your angel wings or whatever you have over there while you’re running in the clouds.  I'm making myself think about how wonderful it will be when I get to see you again one day.

Dad and his best friend Wayne on a patriotic run, celebrating America the Beautiful

No comments:

Post a Comment