Goodby Daddy!

“Let me put up your swingset before I go.”

I recall my daddy saying those words on the day he left for Vietnam. I was terribly excited that we were finally going to have a swingset to play on. ” What a great daddy I have,” I thought.

Later all four of us kids piled into the blue Pontiac with a white roof and white wall tires. Daddy was dressed in his fatigues and had a dufflebag that smelled funny. He was the perfect color of an olive.

We got to the base and he told my mother, “When you hear the trunk close drive off. Don’t look back.” I thought it strange that daddy would say that. After all, there had been many times we dropped daddy off for his trips with the Army. He always came home. What was so different with this one? I was four and reasoned like just like it.

He kissed us all and got out of the car. The trunk closed and mother began to drive off. I couldn’t help myself. I had to turn around and look. I waved and smiled real big. He looked so sad standing there as he got smaller and smaller in the window.

I turned around and noticed my big sister crying. Tears rolling down her cheeks. I asked her why she was crying and she didn’t say a word. The car was dead silent. Then my two brothers started sobbing. ” Why is everyone crying?” I asked. Mother began to cry and asked me to be quiet.

Once we got home everyone went to their bedrooms and locked the door. My sister locked me out of the room we shared. I was so confused. Knowing something was very wrong I ran out of the house, past the swingset and ran through the field of daisy’s to the tree I loved to climb.

I climbed up in the tree and sat there for what seemed like hours. The sound of the wind gently blowing threw the trees had a calming effect. I looked at the swingset and recalled daddy putting it up. Tears rolled down my cheeks with sadness and confusion. I wanted to understand what was wrong. Why was everyone so sad? Daddy always went on trips and came home again. Wouldn’t he come back this time? Daddy would never leave us for good!

After a while my brothers were sent out to retrieve me. They climbed up in the tree with me and we all sat there for a while not saying much.

Eventually we climbed down and gathered mother some daisies before heading to the swingset. What a wonderful gift daddy gave us before he left. We had many happy hours there. Being a mother now though I wonder if it really was a gift for my mother.

Daddy didn’t come home very fast this time out. He was gone for what seemed an eternity. I was very jealous when mother got to go to Hawaii and visit him. The treasures that she brought home were so unique. I’d never seen a doll with a grass skirt, or a neckless made out of seeds. And the reel to reel tape of the Hula dancers was very funny. Daddy was in a strange land indeed. As time passed on we exchanged tapes of ourselves and wrote back and forth on airmail paper.

Time passed on as it has a way of doing. And just like I always knew, daddy would never leave us.

Daddy has been on many trips since that day he first left for Vietnam and so far he has always come home to us! Now being married to a military aviator, and a mother of two, I cry at the thought of what could have happened and feel terribly guilty that I some how didn’t understand why my family cried when we said, “Goodbye Daddy.”

Editor’s note: This article was orginally published in Military Brats Online.

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  1. God Bless your father for returning home.  I remember my father being ordered to Korea from Germany, where we were stationed at the time in Karlsruhe.  We had to move out of government quarters back then, and wound up making lifelong friends with the owners of the building we rented the tiny attic apartment from.  But being without my father for an entire year wasn’t easy, and there we weren’t blessed with the internet back in 1976, so communication was very infrequent, at best.  At some point, I’ll write an article on the painful reintegration of the family unit when he returned from duty in Korea as we met in Tobyhanna, PA for our next assignment…it wasn’t pretty.

    With so many of our active duty military deployed for 12 months (plus) at a time now, we now have a large population of Brats that have done without one (or both!) parents for extended periods of time.  I’m not sure enough is being done to work with them on getting them through the trauma that this causes.

  2. I was fortunate in that when my dad left in 1962, he was headed to Germany and we would follow in a few months. I was six and I was looking forward to the trip, plus I was just about to start the first grade in Columbus, Georgia.

    Seeing my dad at the airport when he was headed off to Vietnam in 1968 was very tough as I was very much aware of the war and every day there were reports of casualties in the evening news. That year seemed like a decade and the fact that I was attending a public school for the first time made matters worse.

    I wrote my dad every few days and we waited for the airmail envelopes that he sent back.

    Thankfully that was the only time when dad had to leave for a war zone. In 1973 he left for Germany for Friedberg and I was a junior in high school and we joined my dad a few months later.

    A couple of years later, after I graduated high school I decided to head back to the U.S. and start my own life back in the U.S. My bother had left for college a few years earlier and there, so it was something new for my parents.

    My dad said, “See you later, son,” that day. He didn’t like saying, “Goodbye.”

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