If you have care and respect for our US Veterans, then please read this!
My dad served our country through the United States Navy from 1963 – 1967, beginning in the Naval Reserves while still in school from November 1962 to June 1963. He was deployed to Vietnam twice and was stationed out of Tan Son Nhat Air Base, Saigon, Vietnam. He served his country humbly because 'that's just what we do.' Though his official service ended with his final honorable discharge in November of 1968, exiting the Navy with the ranking of AX2, Anti-Submarine Warfare Tech, he has silently continued in dedication to make this country a better place.
He has been an amazing husband and father, raising me and my brother while married to our mom for 46 years now. From his steadfast faith in God to caring for his ailing parents, his goodness has touched many. Like millions who've come before him and many who will come after, service like his is the backbone of our country. It consistently honors our founding fathers’ pledge to build a land of opportunity, bravery, equality, and justice, through selfless deed after deed. A US citizen, who’s lived his life from day to day in the shadows of politics and economics that so often shroud the true beauty of this great land. These people are our foundation. They are many.
As a child, I recall my father’s playfulness with my brother and me, yet his stern guidance to teach us right from wrong. This skill continued and was felt by many of our friends who knew him as their baseball or ice hockey coach. I'm sure some of you reading this recognize these same silent qualities in people you've known all your life - parent, friend, teacher, or neighbor. Someone who doesn't seek the limelight, but whose only goal is to live a good life and leave this country with a bit of light to flourish after they’re gone.
Just over 26 years ago, our family was dealt a tough blow. My mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis to add to her existing battle with depression. As you can imagine, her MS diagnosis only compounded her highs and lows. She also has heart disease and other ailments that require a boatload of medications and hands-on care. Her bodily functions have slowly and painstakingly deteriorated over the years. It has been hard to watch her body constantly fail her to the point she’s been unable to hold her grandchildren. Her fight is one of heroism, but also degrading blows – blows which my father has always taken with her. He is her shield. But even the toughest shield ages and can’t keep up the same productivity. Many reading this can surely relate.
Always her faithful caregiver, my father has put her before himself in all and everything, just as he did all those years ago with our country. The Vietnam War could have taken his life. Thankfully, it did not. Instead, it spared him to return home and be a productive citizen. He has spent his life doing so until recently receiving his own diagnosis - cancer. The shield is developing cracks all his.
My brother and I now face the heartbreaking reality of setting up in-home care for our mom, while my father has surgery for the cancer and for his recovery. We both have four children and will do everything to care for her, but we can’t do it alone. I’m in awe that he’s been doing this alone all these years.
He is a proud man, so asking for help has been hard for him. But it got us thinking about his military service and if Veteran Affairs could be of any assistance. His initial reaction to the idea was that he’d given to his country without the expectation of anything in return and that there are thousands of vets coming home now in need of more care than he needs. (Yeah, my heart pounded a little harder after hearing him say that, too.) Finally, he agreed to let me take him to the VA to see if they could lessen his load of taking care of himself so he could still be available to care for our mom. But to our horror, we discovered the military records he was given upon his honorable discharge were incomplete. They lack the TDY orders proving his was ‘Boots on the Ground’ in Vietnam. Without that proof, the VA can’t offer him any help.
The Navy lost my father’s military service records. Seriously?
We petitioned the Military Achieves in Missouri in November, but have received no response. The only positive help we've been given is from Senator Susan Collins’ office in Maine, where my parents reside. However, a phone call from her office this morning shared with us some bad news. They have found nothing to prove his service as of yet. Again – Seriously? My father will not only be worried about his limited ability to care for my mother during his surgery and recovery, but he’ll also be worried about the expense and care he will need. His surgery is in less than two weeks.
This is a man who our country should be grateful to have as its citizen. And there are millions like him.
After receiving the news from the senator’s office, my father text me this: Makes me feel like I imaged serving, or it was a dream. I’m very disappointed. I can guarantee you his memories aren't his imagination, the atrocities he witnessed or the friends he lost. It’s all real. He could have died in Vietnam, not once but twice. If he had, would he now be a ghost? A never-had-been because the Navy can’t find his records, proof that he served?
This is heartbreaking. Obviously he is crushed, but not for the VA’s refusal to offer him the benefits he earned by serving in the armed services. He is devastated because it seems like he didn’t exit, as though his sacrifice didn't matter to anyone. I, for one, NEVER want a service person to feel this sort of abandonment. What about you?