Sara Freeman interviews her father about his military experiences and about being a man in the 21st century.
I visit The Good Men Project often so I noticed the announcement of the new War & Veterans section and thought immediately to ask my father, a Vietnam veteran, to provide a submission. My father, Gary, who is not a man of many words, said he would answer the questions, but gave me permission to complete the article and submit on his behalf. I will preface his answers by saying that he is the most honorable and selfless man I have ever known and has been the rock I’ve built my life upon. I want to tell the world how much I love and respect my father and that I don’t think I would have survived my early tumultuous years had it not been for him.
Because of my strength and sheer will to fight to get through even the darkest of days, both skills I picked up from having my father around, I was able to survive and eventually thrive after a traumatic event in my teenage years. I mustered the courage to join the US Air Force and served honorably for six years while earning a bachelor’s degree in communications. Because of my father, I live independently and without fear, while having an open heart and a certain human understanding that seems lacking in some children raised without their father; those who don’t benefit from a father’s example of how to live a decent life or ever see a man sacrifice his needs for the needs of his children.
I applaud The Good Men Project and hope that more men visit this website and gain a clue about what it means to be a real man, a man similar to my father. I asked him to answer the questions listed on your Call For Submissions and his responses are below. They are not detailed answers because according to my father, too many people forget what they’re living for since they are buried in the trivial details of everyday life.
What was the war like for you?
“The war was not tough on me except for one day, the TET offensive. I watched as my base was attacked by mortar shells. Luckily nothing of importance was hit. Any other day was quiet as I was stationed in Chu Lai where no one left or was allowed off base as there was nothing but jungle around the base on three sides and the South China Sea on the other.”
When I asked my father to tell me about the worst thing he saw in Vietnam, he simply stated that he would not answer that question. This is typical of my father; never calling attention or sympathy on himself. He remains calm and dignified all of the time. I often find myself wondering what my father is thinking, since he rarely vocalizes his opinion. I wish more men could be like him, instead of mindlessly spreading degrading and useless opinions on people and events that are downright shameful or terrifying, especially now that I’m pregnant with a girl. I fear there won’t be any real men left by the time my daughter discovers the opposite sex. I wonder what the future holds and I’m afraid she may never find a man who can hold a candle to my father.
What has it been like coming back to civilian life?
“Coming back to civilian life was unpleasant at first as the attitude of the people was against the war and all that were in it. I must add that the folks against the war were those eligible for the draft and those too young to understand. The puzzling thing was that the veterans of World War II were for the most part, quiet. I never understood why veterans of war were unwilling to support their fellow comrades. War is war. Everything else is just the details.”
How has it changed you?
“It didn’t change me; it did affect my attitude toward young people answering the call of their country.”
Has being in the military and/or fighting in a war changed your definition of being a man?
“Fighting in a war did not change my opinion of what it means to be a man. Those that chose to avoid the draft truly didn’t know that it takes sacrifice by all to maintain freedom. Do I think any less of them, no, but I am sure they enjoy the freedoms fought for by their ancestors without giving them a second thought.”
What does it mean to be a man and veteran in the 21st century?
“Being a man means standing up for what is right and being proud to serve your country, remembering that freedom is not free and some pay the ultimate price, their life, for it. I am happy that today’s soldiers are greeted and not shunned by the public. It may have something to do with my generation understanding why we go to war. I think my generation understands that to live in a country where there are few limitations, a price must be paid. That includes helping people in foreign countries that are not always capable of defending themselves.”
When I asked my father if he had any difficulties coming home or PTSD, his simple answer was “no.” He doesn’t remember the day he came home since it was over 40 years ago and I can attest to the statement that he does not suffer from PTSD. I’m 34 years old and in that time I have never seen my father behave like someone suffering from it. He has remained reliable and predictable, not in a negative way but in the way that you always know you can count on him when he’s expected to do something. He’s not afraid of anything and has always exercised control over his emotions, even when I had to tell him some very powerful and heartbreaking things that I was struggling with. His enduring strength and loyalty to our family pulled me through the darkest period of my life and I am eternally grateful for him. I couldn’t be prouder of my father and the fact that he is a veteran of war makes me prouder still.
This is my way of saying thank you. Hopefully one day he’ll get to read this piece. He’s too humble to elaborate on the details of his story of war, but I’m glad he allowed me to share a small piece of it with The Good Men Project.
–Photo: Eduardo VC Neves/flickr