My father was a Vietnam veteran, but I only knew him as a superhero. He spent 14 months running fuel convoys through some of the worst enemy territory of DaNang, but I only learned this after years of research following his death. You see, after Vietnam, my father came home and wanted nothing to do with the Army or the military at all. He threw his uniforms and boots away, buried his 214 at the bottom of a box, and I’ve yet to find one resume where he lists "veteran" as one of his many superhero powers. Growing up, we always knew, but we were told not to ask.
In 2010, I was on my third 12-month deployment to Iraq. I thought I was invincible at that point: a female officer who was running convoys with an infantry unit. I returned from one such convoy to a Red Cross message waiting for me. It was about my dad. He had been waging a war with liver cancer for years and doctors had just delivered the final blow. I dissolved into a mess of tears as I read the message. 6-9 months. Terminal. I remember looking at myself in all my gear and realized I was still just a scared little girl who needed her dad. A few months before my dad died, he received a letter from the VA. In the pages of convoluted medical and military terminology was the statement, “Your cancer diagnosis has been attributed to your exposure to Agent Orange and you have been awarded 100% disability." It was the first time I had ever seen VIETNAM VETERAN following my dad's name. In the 28 years of being his daughter, I didn’t know him at all. He died before he received $1 of that claim. My father never stepped foot in an American Legion. He never joined any veteran club that I know of, and none of his friends had ever served. It was as if Vietnam had never happened in our home. I like to think had my dad found a Legion, maybe he would have taken more pride in his uniform and held on to it. Maybe he would realize he had friends at the bar instead of drinking alone at night. Maybe one of those friends would have pushed him to the VA a little sooner to get checked for symptoms of Agent Orange. As a combat veteran, I failed my father. As a Legionnaire, I'll never make that mistake again. Our lives have been defined and shaped by our service to our country. We HAVE to talk about it. We have to surround ourselves with brothers and sisters who experienced it. We have to know we are not alone. The greatest asset of the Legion is the people who carry the torch and ensure no one is forgotten again.