In September 2008, I gave the doctors permission to remove my father from life support and a few hours later he passed away ending forty years of suffering. The last time I saw my father, before he drove himself to the Emergency Room, before he went into a coma, before he died, was in May when I came for a visit. We ordered pizza, discussed our favorite topics: religion and politics, and drove to the cemetery. He wanted to show me his completed headstone engraved with his military service, rank and 1st Cavalry badge. He was quite proud of it. The only thing missing was the date of death; carved a year later with the date: September 2008. A mistake actually, because my dad was killed serving his country in Vietnam, March 1968. It just took a really long time for him to die.
Drafted in 1966, he was 19, a small town Iowa boy who got into trouble with the law on occasion and developed a smoking habit but also sang in the church choir and loved his mom with all his heart. I never knew what he dreamed about becoming when he grew up, I guess fate decided for him. He kept his draft letter and I still have it.
I didn’t ask him what he was thinking when he was drafted or when he left for basic training or how he felt when he received his orders to serve in ‘Nam. I can picture that conversation, him sitting across from me giving me that look he perfected, which said do you really need to ask a question with such an obvious answer? He would pause, remove his hand from under his chin, and look at me like I was stupid.