The man on the right is my father-in-law, Brian. In 1968 at the age of 17 he lied on his entrance paperwork and joined the Marines. He was at Camp Lejeune.
He was at Camp Pendleton.
Then he traveled across the Pacific Ocean and joined the most notorious war in US history, Vietnam.
The marines are notorious for being sent into an area first. Because of his job as a heavy equipment operator, he had the daunting task of being the first of the first. It was his job to dig artillery emplacements and clear fields of fire around small bases.
By his own accounts, as he operated this heavy machinery, he could hear the constant sounds of bullets whizzing by his head. He doesn’t talk about Vietnam much. I don’t think it’s because he won’t. I think it’s because he doesn’t want to burden us with what he saw and experienced while he was there.
After two years, in 1970 he returned to America. As he got off the plane he couldn’t even get a cup of coffee because the American Red Cross was charging $0.10 each. He returned home to his family in Odessa Missouri, and without any fanfare, and without any thought for himself, and without crawling into a corner like so many of us would, he went to work.
For the next 40 years he provided for those he loved. He worked in factories and machine shops for the first 20 years. Then he got a position at UMKC in Kansas City and worked on the college’s boilers and in maintenance for 20 years. During all this time he has suffered the lasting effects of Agent Orange. He has suffered severe hearing loss due to artillery fire and small arms fire. He has suffered a variety of physical limitations. He didn’t complain, he just did what a man does. He provided. Last January, after 40 years of work, he retired.
When I first met Brian I was kind of afraid of him. I have family members who were in Vietnam but Brian was the first man I knew who was willing to talk about it a little. He didn’t share a lot with me but when he did, and I realized how much he had been through, it just made me nervous. Simply put, I was intimidated.
It’s not like that today. I truly enjoy being around him. I can see the love for my family in his eyes. In the way he treats my daughters so well. Never a cross word, never an insult. I see his love in the way he bends down on a knee and checks the tomato plants my daughters are helping him grow. In the way he rubs the leaves between his fingers to gently smell the odor of the tomatoes that will eventually grow. The way he watches them work the ground, and the way he coaches them in the fine art of gardening. Something he is learning with them.
He’s a man who does the best he can with what he has. That jungle so far away tried to steal his spirit, but it couldn’t. He’s still a strong man who knows his place in this world, and he isn’t going to stop living his life.
Today I honor this man. I honor this man because 40 years ago, before I was even born, he honored me.