I posted this two years ago, just eight months after Dad passed, and when I came across it in my Facebook memories I was very happy with how two year ago me worded it.
I didnt know much about dad’s time in the service, other than it was in Germany during Vietnam, and that he operated big machinery. He never talked about it. I knew he had nightmares. He would yell and scream in his sleep. But for the longest time, that’s all I knew. Dad served, and it messed him up so much that his subconscious mind tortured him. Almost nightly. I grew accustomed to it, if you can call it that, and never tried to wake him after the first and only time I made the attempt. Even though it was absolutely chilling to listen to. He woke up wild eyed and frightened, and after he got himself together again, he instructed me that he was just dreaming and it would be best if I just let the dream play out.
As I grew older, Dad shared more with me about his experiences while in the Army. I know now why he screamed in his sleep, him having told me one night after he had been drinking. He was very ashamed of something that had transpired, felt guilty, even. He told me he would tell me once, and I was never to speak of it again. So I’m going to keep that promise and not divulge his secret, even though he’s not here to be ashamed or mad at me. I would never betray him. It made sense though after he told me. It made sense why he screamed and why he drank and why he participated in the use of recreational drugs. . . It was that or him go absolutely insane with that on his conscious. Even though I know that what happened was not his fault, and so does anyone who he has told.
Dad ended up in the service because he was promised free college. He was an extremely intelligent man, there was never anything that I asked him that he didn’t have an answer for, except for maybe some day to day life stuff, and even then I think he had an answer but used his judgement that I needed to learn and figure things out on my own. Anyway, instead of college he ended up with a couple mental illnesses and health issues. A man with such a bright future was . . . I don’t want to say ruined, because my dad still was an amazing human being. But his bright future was ripped from him. I know he was a troubled youth before the service, so I can’t really say that all the blame lie there. But would his life have been better, different. . .? Would he still be with us without all of that? It’s debatable at the very least.
My dad suffered from PTSD, on a large scale. He battled it daily. There were days when he wouldn’t open the blinds, for fear of someone watching him, us. We lived in the middle of corn fields and woods, so the likelihood was small. But he couldn’t help what he felt. He missed many school functions, and I can only imagine what it took for him to go to those that he did attend. He battled depression, and feelings of inadequacy. As I hit my late teens he began to confide these things to me. Sometimes I would sit and listen, and talk to him. Other times I just couldn’t wrap my head around how he felt. It was an awful lot for me to try and grasp, and I grew frustrated. It didn’t matter what I said, how I tried to boost his spirits. There were just times he couldn’t be lifted. The worst was watching him fight tears. To feel so trapped in your own head that you felt the need to confide in your teenage daughter. . . I do regret the times I lacked patience, even if I was just a kid. But as an adult I found more patience, and helped him through these rough times as best as I could.
My dad ended up passing from a combination of heart problems, COPD and Emphysema. But he fought the demons of war his entire life.
Love the soldier, not the war. It’s an old saying, one I believe whole heartedly in. I don’t love the fact that my dad participated in a fight that wasn’t ours to fight, in a country other than ours. I don’t love that he traded his potential for the demons that followed him home. But I do love him for the sacrifices he made. He didn’t join for recognition or glory. He received honors I didn’t even know about until I was reviewing his military documents after he passed. He joined to further himself. But he still went, he still played a part in defending our country and our rights, and the rights of people everywhere, American or not. He fought for the family he didn’t even have yet, and the one he came from. And I love him for continuing the battle once he came home. The one he fought every day, the one he fought to keep from putting a bullet in his own head, (because trust me the thought did more than cross his mind, this I know) the one he fought to raise us despite how hard it must have been at times. He did escape reality quite often, but he did a damn good job in raising us despite it all.
And I know my father isn’t the only person who has dealt with these things. And I’m grateful for each and every one of the people who have made sacrifices like my dad did, and those that continue to.
Love the soldier, not the war.