The Only Time I Saw Him Cry

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When
I was a kid, up in the attic there were two green uniforms with
some ribbons on them. One was my Dad's and the other was Uncle Bob's.
Both were Marines in World War Two. Later on I learned that my Dad
had stayed in the reserves and went to Korea too.

When
I was real little, my friend and I would sneak up and look at these
uniforms and go out and play "War." We would ask my Dad
about the war and he would just put us off.

When
I was a senior in high school I was telling my Dad that I was going
in the service. He said, "Well, listen to me. Go in the Air
Force where you will get something out of your training that you
can use."

Being
one really brilliant teenager, I knew that he was steering me wrong,
so I went down and joined the Marines like Dad and Uncle Bob. Back
then there were not all those cool ads on TV where the guy fights
the "Fire Dragon" with the sword and then turns into the
Marine in Dress Blues. I did learn the Marine Corp Hymn in grade
school and every one knew that Marines were tough as all get out.
How could a teenager resist?

When
I got home I told my Dad what I did. He didn't get mad or even raise
his voice. He just said "OK" and walked away.

After
about a year in the Corps I came home for a thirty-day leave before
going to Vietnam. My Dad and Uncle Bob took me out for dinner, just
the three of us, a couple days before I left. I could tell that
both of them wanted to say something, but they just couldn't get
it out. They kind of fell into my mood as I was real "Gung
Ho" and thought that I could whip the world and that Vietnam
would be a "piece of cake."

They
laughed at my jokes and told me some real good ones from when they
were in. Marines have a real sick sense of humor and I thought that
we had a good time. My Dad was talking to me like a man for the
first time in my life.

Two
days later my Mom kissed me good by at our house and just my Dad
took me to the airport. My Mom cried, but she cried when I went
to Boot Camp, so I didn't think much about it. It does embarrass
you, though, and I was glad to get out of there.

We
got my sea bag checked in and we still had a hour to kill. We walked
around not saying much. I was pumped and just wanted to go. My Dad
was talking about lots of things that I did as a kid. Stuff that
I had totally forgotten about, and I couldn't think of why he was
on these subjects.

I
was waiting for the "Well, keep your head down" and a
good hand shake.

After
all, we were two Marines and that was the proper way to part.

When
they called my flight my Dad broke right down and cried. He was
trying so hard not to, his whole body was shaking, I didn't know
what to do. All he could say was "I should have told you."

I
was kind of a mess by then too as I had never seen my Dad cry. Marines
don't cry. All I could do was give him a hug and turn and leave.

I
was on the plane and I couldn't figure out my Dad breaking down
like that.

Vietnam
taught me why.

May
23, 2001

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