Author's Name: Linda Yates
Title: "The War After the War"
I was born in 1974 - as my father's time serving as an Army infantryman in Vietnam had finally come to its end. After being born in a small Missouri community called Brookfield - while my father was on a post-war recruiting assignment - we eventually moved to the small northeast Kansas community of Junction City, a few mere miles from the Ft. Riley Army Military Installation. As I was growing up, the sounds of helicopters and artillery training were the lullabies of my life. You haven't lived until 15 Apaches fly low over your house on the way to their airfield, which was maybe 3 miles up the road from my neighborhood.
The Vietnam War didn't mean much to me until I was old enough to really understand its implications on my family. My mother, a civil-service nurse working in an Army-base hospital, would remark from time-to-time about how broken the soldiers were, as they returned from the War and tried to get on with their-now non-military lives. Soldiers didn't leave the Army post in their fatigues - they changed into civilian dress, so they didn't have to face the indignation of a populace that would shun them, spit on them, and treat them as less than human for serving their country. My father would react to cars backfiring. My mother, I believe, blamed the war for allowing for my father's infidelity. My parents then split before I even reached 10 years old.
As I started cresting my teen years, my father's health started to decline rapidly. My father, once a vibrant NCO, a Sargent First Class, retired out of the Army as an E7 when I was just 8 years old. Five years hence, he died. I don't think anyone can truly understand the experience of being only 13 years old and of being told that your father is going to die soon, and that you need to say goodbye - NOW. The memory of my father, post-surgery for a procedure they colloquially called "the zipper," sitting in a smoking lounge, sucking on a cigarette after being opened up, will be perennial in my mind. Essentially, the doctors and surgeons cracked open his chest to confirm what they already suspected - his lungs were being eaten alive by 'oat cell carcinoma,' an aggressive form of lung cancer. A few months shy of my 14th birthday, my father passed away in the early hours of a late April morning, after trying to fight the cancer with an onslaught of chemo and radiation that withered his body away to nothing.
Fast-forward to college - an education essentially paid for gratis courtesy of my father's GI bill and survivor's benefits - and the ravages of "Agent Orange" are starting to come to forefront in the media, and in Congress. As I have gotten older, I've had my own health issues to contend with, and to this day my mother wonders if any of them can be or are tied to my father's potential exposure to Agent Orange. People began to question if my father's aggressive lung cancer really was tied to his epic smoking habit or if it was in large-part to Agent Orange. The wonderful ladies in the Veteran's Affairs office at my university stuck a piece of paperwork under my nose and asked if I'd ever filled it out. To this day, I don't remember what that paperwork was called - but it resulted in a large sum of money being paid to me. Perhaps it was in reparations for his Agent Orange exposure. Maybe some Veteran's Affairs representative failed to bring it to my attention, or my mother's, for that matter. Who knows. My mother also contends there was something called the Dan Quayle Amendment, relating to Agent Orange reparations, but I'll be damned if I can find any evidence of such an amendment.
It's a pleasant thought to think that once a war physically ends that life will continue as it was prior to that war occurring. That said, the thought is completely unrealistic. More than 14 years after my father returned from Vietnam, the War continued for him, ultimately taking his life. Sure, it didn't happen in the jungles or at the hands of the Viet Cong. But the War did take him. Next year, it will be 30 years since I last saw my father alive.