My Personal Story on the Price of Freedom

10:09 AMHeather

Today, I sit and look through a scrapbook.  It's not just any scrapbook.  Nope.  It's the book I created many years ago, trying to piece a part of my heritage together.  There's this black hole from my family story.  It's my personal story on the price of freedom.  And it was an untold story.  

My dad served two year-long tours in Vietnam before I was born.  Easy going and gregarious, he became quiet and sullen--from the best of my recollection--when the topic came up.  It was not something he discussed.  Ever. The change of his facial expression told what he never did.  That time, serving in that war, was profound.  And hard.  And dark.  It cast a shadow over my dad and I never knew exactly why.  

Truth is, I never will.  Because 21 years after he returned from Vietnam for good, he was killed in action.  So to speak.  He died after an eighteen month long battle with cancer.  A cancer that was determined to be caused by his exposure to Agent Orange during his war time service.  To me, my dad is a war hero.  He gave his life to serve God and country.  

And when he died, I thought I'd never know about that part of his life that cast its shadow and eventually led to his death.  But, years later, my husband, sister, brother-in-law and I tackled the task of finally cleaning out a family storage unit.  It was a treasure hunt for sure.  And we struck gold.  Because we found boxes and boxes of documents related to my dad's 20 year Army career.  There were journals and calendars with brief notations from Dad's time in Vietnam.  Not to mention pictures and certificates that came with numerous medals.  It was finally the glimpse into those two years fighting a war halfway around the world.  I just had to piece together the puzzle that it presented.  Put it in order somehow.  

I'm not sure I did it justice.  But, it was a powerful process.  To feel a connection to that part of my dad that I never knew.  That part that explained why my strong father would be teary eyed every time he sang the National Anthem.  Why my dad was so moved by patriotic songs and presentations.  Why my dad was so proud, in his quiet own way, of the sacrifices he made for an unpopular war where his return brought jeers and taunting and mistreatment.  It was not the warm and celebrated welcome home that our veterans get today.  There were no crowds at the airport with flags waving.  There were no big surprise reveals for a solider upon his return.  Not at all.  While it was prior to my birth, it seemed to me that Dad quietly re-entered a culture that spewed hatred for the men who served heroically.  As if the politics behind it were his fault.  He was simply a brave and courageous man who voluntarily entered the service during an unpopular war.  Who left his wife as a newlywed to serve for a year, training the Vietnamese to fight the communists.  And then, just another year later, he left his first baby girl and wife to do combat.  Wounded, he quickly recovered and then went right back to the front lines.  

These are some of the details I've finally learned from this amazing journey of creating a scrapbook.  The tangible heritage that I can pull out on the Fourth of July to tell tales to my children of the grandfather they never knew.  To explain, in some small way, why the Fourth of July and patriotic church services and the National Anthem makes me weepy.  Because I remember.  I remember the pride I felt next to my uniformed father.  Knowing that he'd been brave--just not knowing how exactly.  Remembering how he faced his cancer head on, replying to the death sentence diagnosis by saying, "For to me, to live is Christ.  And to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).  

He left a legacy, quite unknowingly I think.  I don't think he ever meant to unveil the details of his war time service.  It was too painful.  Yet, by God's grace, we have it.  We have a shadow box with his medals.  His purple heart.  His bronze star.  His air medal.  His army commendation medal.  A scrapbook full of photos and his handwritten captions on them, and certificates and letters and extraction orders to leave Vietnam.  This tangible treasure that tells, however imperfectly, the untold story of a man who believed in God.  And country.  And served valiantly.  And humbly.  

This is the dash between his birth date and death date.  

August 26, 1942 - May 14, 1990

This is my American hero.  The one I tell my children all about as we sit and look at the scrapbook.  The one I'll tell my grandchildren about.  So that they can understand why I wipe a bittersweet tear away on the Fourth of July when we sing about freedom.  A freedom that comes at great cost.  God bless America.

 For the 4th of July, 1967, my Grandmother sent my dad an ice cream maker while he was in Vietnam.  Dad and his buddies called it the "WM"--"Wonder Machine"--as they taught the Vietnamese soliders how to use it.

More photos from the 4th of July with the Wonder Machine

 Some of Dad's buddies working for ice cream.

 Dad hard at work, too.

 Dad's handwritten caption about that day.

 Lunch with a fellow American and a Vietnamese soldier during that 1966-1967 tour.

 The details are sketchy (as is the aged photo), but Dad was part of a clothes give-away in a village.  I believe my grandparents sent the clothes over for the Vietnamese people.

 Dad's note that came with a plaque he received from the Vietnamese thanking him for his service.

 The letter that came with Dad's Bronze Star Medal for Heroism--"for heroism in connection with military leading an assault across enemy positions Captain Murray boldly maneuvered across 75 meters of open terrain...braving a hail of enemy fire rounds to rush to the aid of the wounded and evacuate them to safety."

 Dad's certificate for his Purple Heart when he was wounded in a separate incident, prior to the above described incident.
 My dad with me--at 2 months of age.  Post war service.  

 I love this family photo.  My dad--my hero--with all his insignia.


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