Tuesday, September 06, 2011

What I Did and What I Should've Done ...

My father died June 13, 2005. He was in the military and did some pretty extraordinary things ... but for the last six years, his ribbons and pins and awards and paperwork have all been stored in two tubs in my closet.

Not that I didn't care or wasn't interested. I just ... "compartmentalized" it. His things were safe in my closet. I knew they were there. I knew they would continue to be there until I was ready to look through everything. Well, today I remembered why I stored everything away for so long ... it just hurts too much to dig into it.

A little back story ... my Dad was pretty amazing. My biggest regret in life (so far) is that I didn't spend more time just talking to him. A thousand times I called the house ... a thousand times he answered ... and nine hundred and ninety nine times I asked to talk to Mom. It wasn't until he had his massive heart attack that we connected ... and then I only had eight months to do a lifetime worth of catching up. Not nearly long enough.

I can tell you want I know about him. He and his parents didn't get along. Around eighteen, he "ran off" and joined the Marine Corps. You'd think my grandparents would've been proud of everything their son accomplished ... and he accomplished a lot ... but they weren't. They were resentful that he'd left their small, rural town ... and even when he moved back years later, they still held it against him.

He was enlisted ... retired as a Master Sargent ... went to Viet Nam ... earned his wings ... was part of some Agent Orange crew ... came back home and got Yankee White clearance ... was selected to work on Marine One ... and managed, during all this, to have a spectacular little girl.

Fast forward. A couple weeks ago, I got a wild hair and decided to dig out those tubs and find out what was in them. I have all this paperwork ... his original acceptance to the Marines ... his separation papers ... his honorable discharge ... a certificate signed by the president for his service ... all sorts of things I need to read. I have three different "yearbooks" ... two that look like they're from his boot camp and one that appears to be ... as crazy as it sounds ... a yearbook from Viet Nam. I had to put them all away ... it was too emotional to see where he'd marked out or made notes next to the soldiers he was friends with ... and the ones who had died.

I have a beautiful shadow box ... and I'm working on filling it with some mementos ... things from Marine One like a pen, a tie clip, and a cigarette box (yes, they had cigarette boxes stamped with the presidential seal ... crazy, eh?) Plus I have Dad's dog tags, his ribbons, his insignia ... a couple of photos ... all the standard things you would put in a shadowbox. Everything but his wings.

When he left me his truck, I put his wings on the sun visor. At any moment, I could look up and feel like he was with me. I know I took them out of the truck when we traded it in ... but now I can't find them. So, I'm looking online ... trying to find out how to replace them. And it's too much to bear. Looking up all the information ... finding out how to contact the Bureau of Naval Personnel to request his records and replacement medals ... it's all too much.

Part of it is the overwhelming guilt that I lost his wings in the first place. Part of it is the overwhelming sadness that I didn't get to ask him more questions. He has an Agent Orange pin that says "Sprayed and Betrayed" ... did the Marines give him that? I can't believe they would admit to having betrayed their soldiers by exposing them to toxic chemicals ... but if he didn't get it from them, where did it come from? And all those ribbons ... he could've told me what each one meant. But I didn't ask. I can honestly say that I thought I had more time ... but so what? Everyone thinks that.

I'm stuck in a loop ... asking the question "Who can I talk to about this item?" and knowing the answer "There's no one left ... I waited too long." At this point, all I can do is write the appropriate agency, send them the death certificate and the required information, and see what they send back. According to the website, it takes up to a year to receive anything from this type of request ... so once I complete everything, I'll have a year to wait. But at this point, what's a year? I've already waited forty two ...

And if the night runs over
And if the day won't last
And if your way should falter
Along this stony pass
It's just a moment
This time will pass

U2 - Stuck in a Moment