When this bitch was a wee bitch I used to spend every Memorial Day curled up on the family room floor watching war flicks with my father. It was an unstated ritual of the holiday…hot dawgs and beer for Dad, hot dawgs and grape soda pop for a bitch and hours of WWII films and documentaries on the telly.
One Memorial Day in particular we watched several films about Vietnam. I remember that my father hesitated when the first film was introduced and then sat back in his chair as if he were resigned to some unavoidable unpleasant experience.
The Deer Hunter…I’m pretty sure it was The Deer Hunter…began to play and there was a tension in the room. We were both silent and the house joined us, the rest of the family having taking advantage of a rare opportunity to sleep in.
The film finished without either one of us saying a word, but my curiosity was not to be denied so I turned to my father to ask him if he had been in the Vietnam War.
But something in his eyes caused me to swallow my questions.
“Hush now.” He quietly said and then closed his eyes. And I was silent as my father paused to remember.
I later found out that my father had not been in Vietnam but had lost friends to that conflict and I wondered what was it like to have friends go to war and what was it like when they didn’t come back.
Then I thought of my father and of the emotions I had seen play across his face…and I knew that he would never be able to explain that to me anymore than he was able to explain war to me. More than the characters on the screen or the plot of a film, Vietnam was real to my parents in a way that defied explanation.
Years later I though of that when I visited the Vietnam War Memorial and watched a man stand before that wall of stone bearing the names of the fallen…watched him reach out a trembling hand to touch his lips and then place that hand over a name on the wall.
A life and all that is contained within that single word.