HE CAME HOME

This is a letter my dad sent to me just before he returned from his tour of duty in Vietnam. I was four years old when he left and I received this letter just before my fifth birthday. To my knowledge, it’s the only letter he sent me while he was away at war. He and my mother wrote to each other every single day. Of course, a letter didn’t come daily. I remember bundles of tissue-thin pale blue envelopes with red, white, and blue striping around the edges arriving periodically. She would retreat to her bedroom and read them.

I love this letter. I’ve always treasured it. I’ve taken it out and delicately unfolded it and read it many times in my life. I remember as a child thinking I need to teach him that his letter “y” was backwards and that he was confused on his dates. My birthday came on September 28th, nine days before October 7th.


He didn’t talk about Vietnam, very little if any at all. I guess that’s why I never, ever took this letter out of its sacred spot in my baby book and asked him about it. It’s left me as an adult wondering how in the world a father could write this letter to his four year old daughter from the midst of a savage war on the other side of the world. Was he terrified to make this promise? To put in writing the words “I will come home” and gently fold the tissue paper with the outline of the war-torn country lightly printed on the page; and to put it in that “par-avion” envelope and send it to his little girl? No going back, no stopping it en route… “I will come home”.

And yes, I got this letter before he arrived. I most certainly did. I remember it, I still feel like a little girl when I read it. My heart skips a beat with excitement of an upcoming fifth birthday and a very special guest. This time my Daddy would be there. He wrote it in a letter and I knew he would be home. My God, to think of penning those words under those horrific circumstances is agony. I would not have the spine to make that promise. I would not let my children open that letter until their father was at the door. What a magnificently brave thing to do. Of all the courage that Viet Nam required of him, this stands out to me.


He came home.


He’s not the one we honor on Memorial Day. He is hailed on Veteran’s Day. Truly, as a Navy Brat, not a day goes by that I don’t feel pride and gratitude for him and all Veterans. But on Memorial Day, my thoughts are: “He came home”.

I am not nit-picking. Not at all. It would be inconsiderate to place flags in Arlington by only the markers of those who died serving our country. There is nothing inappropriate about remembering and thanking our veterans on Memorial Day. All Veterans, ALL of them, should be (and are by me) held in high regard every day. This is, however, a day in which those who paid the ultimate price are held in higher regard. They didn’t come home. Somebody’s parent, or child, or spouse, or sibling, or friend didn’t come home. They didn’t come home from War. They didn’t come home from work. Yes, those who “died while serving” include veterans who lost their lives in accidents, training missions gone wrong, unforeseen attacks by unknown enemies. My dad came home: from training, from work, from watch duty, from war. He came home.

So this year I am going to celebrate Memorial Day for what it means to me: He came home. My dad returned from war, served for 20 years in the US Navy, and retired a distinguished Master Chief. For 31 more years he continued to build a legacy for us. He never had to leave again. We have as much of a lifetime of memories, wonderful fun and difficult blows, from the years of retirement as we do from the years of active duty.

To those whose loved one did not come home, I humbly offer you my condolences and gratitude on Memorial Day and always. I couldn’t bear your anguish. I’m going to take out my letter and read it and I make this promise to you: I will not take for granted the ultimate sacrifice that we recognize your loved one for on Memorial Day, and I will not take for granted the precious gift that was given to me on that fifth birthday so many years ago.

He came home.

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