Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Daughter at the Wall

My flying partner for the week had flown a tour in Vietnam. Jerry happens to be one of our youngest Vietnam veterans, at fifty-nine. That's striking to me. The guys who flew in Vietnam have long been my mentors, both in the Army and with PHI, and there aren't many of them still flying with us who are under the age of sixty. What a strange thought.

But that's not what I showed up here to talk about. I came to talk about Jerry and me, two large middle-aged guys, sitting at a table in a restaurant in tears. And no, the tears weren't from laughter. The waitress approached us at one point, and, noticing our faces, backed away.

I mentioned to Jerry, when we first started eating, how my son still hugs me, and doesn't seem to mind when I kiss his head when dropping him off at school. I also mentioned that I've thought a lot lately about Dylan being ten years old, and about the autumn of his childhood, and the changes that will come.

Jerry talked about his daughter. "When she got to five years old," he said, "she decided that she was too big to be picked up in public. It seemed that one month she was asking me to pick her up all the time, and the next, she just stopped asking."

Jerry paused for a moment, and his mind seemed to go somewhere else, but he snapped back and continued.

"My wife, my daughter, and I were in Washington, D.C. At one point, my wife asked if I wanted to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I declined. She didn't ask for an explanation, and I didn't offer one."

Jerry paused again. "The reason I didn't want to visit The Wall is a whole different story."

He went on. "At one point, we were on foot, and we realized that the fastest way to walk to our destination was past the wall. My wife told me that she would get the car so we could drive, but I told her, 'No, I can do this.' So I started walking along the wall, but I resisted looking at it."

"It was getting to me anyway. I felt it, even if I wasn't looking at it. Then came a tug at my coat. I looked down, and my daughter, who was seven at the time, asked me to pick her up. I was surprised, because it had been at least two years since she'd asked me to pick her up in public. So I did."

"I held her close, and she wrapped her arms around my neck and squeezed me."

"She put her mouth against my ear, and whispered, 'Daddy, I'm so glad your name isn't on that wall.'"

6 comments:

Mary Paddock said...

Oh. I am so glad those tears are out of the way for the day. Geez. What a great story.

Uncle E said...

Wow. Just...wow.

Kelly said...

Oh my. What a perceptive child!

Thanks for sharing this story.

Scotty said...

That observation by your daughter is lump-in-the-throat stuff.

*sniff*

Debby said...

Oh that was a good story.

Bob said...

Beautiful, Hal.