I am the proud daughter of a Vietnam Veteran. I am one of the lucky ones. Although my dad has PTSD from his time in Vietnam, he was always willing to talk about it when I asked. When I decided to write my senior paper on the Vietnam War, he answered all my questions. After he started attending the reunions he changed. He started proudly displaying his Vietnam memories. In public you will see him wearing his veteran hats, vest and even the car has a veteran tag. I know that for a lot of the veterans and their wives or significant others, the reunions have been very healing.
I want to talk about the reunion from the rest of the family’s point of view. I went to my first reunion in 2010. My dad really wanted me to go so I could meet the other veterans. I could justify it because I was doing the website and this would give me an opportunity to gather photos and document the reunion. For those that don’t know me, I am a very task-oriented person. I spend more time working on things than I do just relaxing and having fun. I like to have a purpose.
What I got from the reunion was a lot more than just pictures for the website. I got to see the new veteran attendees work through the emotions of the memories. I got to see the new women attendees get support from the other women who have lived through it. I got to listen to them share their stories. I saw generosity from strangers who paid for their breakfasts or dinners. I got to see them all march with pride in a parade where they were honored. I even ate peaches and pound cake for the first time – the dessert they all looked forward to.
Now that I have a son in school, it is hard for me to make the reunions due to the timing. Last year however, we made the decision to pull him from school for a few days so that we could take him to the reunion. He was 6 at the time. He knew grandpa was a veteran, though I’m not sure he really understood what that meant. I wanted him to be there, because I knew it would mean a lot to my dad. He wanted the other guys to meet his grandson. I wasn’t expecting my son to get much out of it, just another beach vacation, but even at the age of 6 he was very moved by the events.
At our first night, I gave my son my Kindle with his books loaded on it so he could read while we attended the presentations. Once Mother started the slide show of all the fallen soldiers, my son looked up at the screen and whispered to me “Mommy, did all of those men die.” I said “yes they did.” He immediately put away the Kindle and watched the rest of the slide show in quiet respect. I was a very proud mom (with tears in my eyes.) We had a lot of family fun on that trip, it was a trip to the beach after all, but listening to the presentations, hearing the stories, and seeing the other veterans made an impact on my 6 year old boy. He doesn’t have a full understanding of what a war is, or what a veteran went through, which is ok with me. I want him to keep his innocent thoughts as long as he can. This trip did give him a respect for veterans. It is no longer just a word to him. It has meaning. When his school had a Veterans Day celebration this year he immediately said he wanted Grandpa to be there. There was no question that we had to send Grandpa’s picture in to be part of the slide show. He proudly walked in the Veteran’s Parade on a very cold winter day with his Cub Scout troop and his veteran grandpa by his side.
If you haven’t considered attending and taking your children to one of the reunions you should. Not only will it mean a lot to your dad, each family that has attended gains something from the experience. You will hear stories that you probably haven’t heard before. You will see a side of your dad that you probably never saw before. You will see how strong the bond is that these men share. You and your children will have an even bigger respect for the veterans than you already have. It may be too late to go this year, but you should look for information on the next one so you can plan to attend. There are always several tourist activities planned and everyone has a good time, but the memories and understanding that you will gain is worth more than anything else.