As I write my new novel set in the 60s, sometimes I feel like I’m traveling back in time. The teenage character in my book, due out this fall, is one year older than I was that particular year. And while Angie is definitely not me, we do have some things in common, including that our dads were serving a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1966.
Doing research for Angie’s story has brought back the ugliness and futility of that war. Like Angie’s dad, my father told me the rationale behind US involvement in Vietnam was to stop the spread of Communism. And, being a good soldier, even if he didn’t believe that objective was sound, he did his duty.
Before Dad left in August of 1966, his mother, his father and all of his sisters and brothers drove to our house to spend the day with him. I knew why they made that unusual visit. There was the very real possibility that my dad might be killed over there. But, unlike so many other military families, we were lucky. My father returned unharmed a year later. For which we were very thankful.
But I was a dumb teenager, distracted by all the things teenagers can be distracted by. Boys, school, friends, music, boys… you get the picture. I didn’t pay close attention to the news. My mother, on the other hand, watched the news every evening and read the newspaper every day. She knew where the worst fighting was. She knew how close my dad was to the action.
Mom kept a map of Vietnam on the wall above her bed so she could study where the battles or bombings took place. She sat on the bed every night – and I mean EVERY night – and wrote my father a letter. That's her in the picture. - a picture she mailed to my dad. Back in those days, of course, there were no smart phones and no computers to Skype or email. And calling long distance to or from Vietnam was out of the question. My father didn’t have access to a phone, for one thing. But even if he had, the cost was exorbitant.
My father also wrote my mother, if not every day, at least several days a week, on a yellow legal pad. Mother would get his letters in bunches, many times out of order, often several weeks after he’d written them.
We did use “high-tech” a few times to communicate. I got a small reel-to-reel recorder for my birthday. So we shipped my dad an identical machine and then recorded tapes to mail back and forth. I played the piano for him. Mom, my brother and sister and I took turns talking to him on the tape. Dad did his best to respond, recording one sentence at a time.
So this novel I’m working on has brought back so many memories. A vivid stroll down memory lane the year my dad was in Vietnam.
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