For this son, the war affected his dad in ways he can’t understand.
Our elder, also a Vietnam veteran, shares his perspective and says it’s never too late to connect.
My dad is a 72-year-old USMC Vietnam vet. I am 23 years old; my dad had me when he was 50. During his time in Vietnam he was subjected to a chemical known as Agent Orange. The chemical caused many health problems including: A pacemaker, 2 knee replacements from jumping out of helicopters, diabetes, high blood pressure as well as depression. He can’t go very far walking without his powered chair. He is on heavy doctor-prescribed narcotics and does not stay away for very long without his mind being engaged; what are some things I can do with my dad? I never really reached out to him before. He doesn’t do much but watch TV and do puzzles and does not like to talk about his past. Right now he’s in the intensive care unit he has one more week before he gets transferred to physical rehab. He is in bad shape. He might be coming home in 3 months or he might stay there. I hope it’s not too late to do something with him. Help?
Has your dad registered with the Veterans Administration (VA)? Many Vietnam vets have health issues similar to his, especially as related to Agent Orange, and the VA has established some special programs for them. If you haven’t done it already, I suggest you call your nearest VA hospital, explain what’s going on with him, and see what kind of assistance and advice they might be able to offer. Find the nearest facility at: https://www.va.gov/directory/guide/division.asp?dnum=1. I also suggest that you speak with the social worker at the hospital where he now is and get some advice about what you might be able to do for him after his release.
Next time you’re alone with him, maybe you could share a cup of coffee and, if you feel the time is right, mention that you don’t know too much about his life and ask if he’d be willing to share some of his history with you. Don’t try to push him, just let the conversation go wherever it wants to. Maybe share some of your own hopes and fears and ask if he’s had similar experiences. Ask for his advice on anything that you’re trying to deal with at the moment.
Your dad is a hero. I’m a Vietnam Vet myself and, while I was shot at a time or two what happened to me was nothing compared to the ordeals that your father and his fellow marines experienced. Many never returned and, of those who did, many were damaged in ways that were both visible and invisible to the eye. Even worse, they returned to a public that gave them little recognition for their service. Visit your local library and ask them to recommend some books about the marine experience in Vietnam. If your dad would tell you what unit he was with, you might even find a book that covers your father’s actions. You’ll be impressed, and your dad will, very likely, be pleased to get some recognition for what he’s done. Maybe you both can talk about a chapter that you’ve read.
The effects of wartime experiences – especially for those who engaged in ground combat – are felt for a lifetime, and usually not for the better. Consequently it’s never too late to both help him and discover parts of his story that will make you proud. I hope those conversations happen soon.
Thank you for reaching out to us and giving me a chance to help. I hope I have. If you like, you could always ask for me and we can continue this conversation or go on to anything else I might be able to help with. I wish the very best for both you and your dad. Give him a salute for me.