My dad bombed Vietnam.
It was decades before I realized that when I said, “My dad works on B-52’s,” that that really meant he flew missions over Vietnam and bombed the country to smithereens. Men, women, children, babies, dogs, goats, high-rise buildings, houses, generations of lives… gone because of my father “working on B-52’s.”
I never talked to him about it. He did not discuss his missions. Instead, he sent us pictures of himself in lush Guam or Okinawa, lovely girls by his side. Or he and his friends with flowers behind their ears, drinking beer as they grilled a pig outside on the sand. He sent souvenirs back from Iceland, the pelt of an Icelandic sheep, the wool many inches long and a very white white.
He died before I could ask his feelings about bombing a country that would be forever scarred because of his actions.
I wonder what he thought as he watched the rain of bombs falling from the enormous plane, seeing them from above, not below where they exploded and killed so, so much life.
I wonder if he ever had any regrets or was The Mission the most important part. Was his need to follow so great he never even had one nightmare about what he was doing?
My dad was 19 when he went into the Air Force. 19 years old. That is such a baby age! At 19, I was still dancing in the disco, had barely had sex for the first time, was still years from marriage and having kids. And there he was, killing whole villages with one sweep of the carpet.
Perhaps my dad never talked about these things because he was better able to compartmentalize pain than I. Maybe it really didn’t bother him at all. Maybe he just didn’t think about it once the mission was over and he was back in the barracks playing poker with his buddies. Maybe they didn’t even talk about what they were doing amongst themselves.
If my dad was still here today, on this Veteran’s Day, I know I would still not bring the topic up. His never speaking of missions gave the clear message that the topic was verboten.
I wonder if I were to bring it up, could I have unleashed a gushing onslaught of hidden pain and anguish? Would I have realized, too late, that this should not be discussed outside of a professional’s therapy room? Might I have alienated my father forever? That I did not and allowed our relationship to stay calm and even is something I am glad about.
And even as I am happy things turned out the way they did with my father, that I never spoke about my growing understanding of the Vietnam War and his role in it, I am comforted only in regards to my dad.
When it comes to the country of Vietnam or the Vietnamese people, I can never erase the shame or hide the sorrow for what my father did to obliterate their lives.