The first Veteran in my life is my dad, David C. Torres, Retired Chief Petty Officer, United Stated Navy. He was the fifth son out of my grandmother’s eight sons. He joined the Navy at 17. He served during the Korean War and also at the beginning of the conflict in Vietnam on the Bonn Homme Richard, CV-31. He worked on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier, getting jets on and off the deck of the carrier to run bombing missions over Vietnam. He later was stationed at Cubic Point Naval Air Base, Republic of the Philippines, at the airfield where body bags came in from Vietnam headed home. He retired at NAS Miramar, the home of “Top Gun” fame. Now Miramar is Marine Corps Air Base Miramar, but, don’t tell him that. For all my life as a dependant, before and after he retired, NAS Miramar was all Navy.
All of his brothers served in the armed forces. In the case of one brother, my Tio Frank Torres, served in two branches. Army and then the Marine Corps. My mom had four brothers, all who served. It was a recent conversation at Christmas last year when my mom told me her eldest brother, my Tio Dan had suffered from “shell shock” when he returned from his duty. The local train going by my grandma’s house, used to catch him off guard and send him to the floor in his first days back. Her youngest brother, my Tio Arturo, was wounded in Vietnam. His intestines and stomach were mostly plastic by the time the doctors were done with him. His injuries proved so severe, he went from morphine to, I was told, street pharmaceuticals, to deal with the pain. It took him years, but he finally got his health on tract, was driving truck early one morning two years ago and was killed.
My husband is the son of a sharecropper. He joined Job Corps and went to Idaho, and from Job Corps joined the Marine Corps. He was a country boy who had just been out of the state of North Carolina for the first time and was going to a foreign country to shoot, and be shot at. He was wounded by shrapnel in his face in a close encounter with another young country boy from Vietnam. Killed or be killed. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his wound and was sent back in country as soon as he could walk around on his own, to finish out his tour.
If you ask family and friends, there is someone who knows someone who served. There is someone who has a story they carry in them. Someone that might have carried it so long, that his almost senior aged daughter did not know her father served in World War II until he came back from a dedication ceremony in D.C. I asked my husband, why do some veterans, come home, put their military locker in storage, or in the barn, or in the attic and never tell their spouse, or their kids about their time in service. The younger veterans don’t want to relive it, he speculates, the older ones are from a generation where you did not complain. It was easier to act like it didn’t happen, than deal with the questions when people find out it did.
I know there are other stories out there in my family. I have a cousin I wrote to when he served in Vietnam. He died not long after he returned, and because no speaks of it, I wondered if it had to do with his time in service. No one speaks of it. I have refrained from asking my Tia, because the loss of a son, I understand as I have a son of my own. But, I often wondered if the demons from Vietnam followed my cousin home.
My daughter, Megan, joined the Navy in 2004, just out of high school. If you could have seen the look on her grandfather’s face, when he found her new I.D. card in his birthday card, that year. It is one of those stories we still tell at the dinner table when we talk about the legacy of her following in her grandfather’s footsteps. No, she is not working catapult on a aircraft carrier as her grandfather did, she is Aircrew on H-53’s and from time to time, flies on to aircraft carriers. She is the latest in our family to serve.
If you go the VA Hospital in Durham, to the convalescent floor, you will find everyday people from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm I and II, that served this country. You might even find a Purple Heart recipient or Bronze Star recipient, or you may just find every day folk, too sick to be at home, trying to live out their days as best they can. Ordinary people, who served this country when the times called for extraordinary people to serve. We owe them, the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the veterans of peace time, so much more than just a day of remembrance, a flying of the Stars and Stripes, a day off work and school, and “Pre-Holiday Sale” at the local mall. We owe them our time, our respect, our consideration, and our dedication, that their service is not just acknowledged, but respected and honored.