It was the summertime in the early ’60′s and a young college graduate took off on a cross-country journey from Louisiana to Vermont to be a counselor at a summer camp for girls. She drove in a car with another young lady. They were strangers when they set out but would return as sisters. As the ladies got to know one another, the younger of the two became certain that she needed to introduce her car-mate to her brother who was stationed at the Air Force base in Myrtle Beach. He was preparing to leave for Vietnam. She decided to detour in South Carolina to introduce the two saying, “you two are the most left-handed people I know, so you will either love each other or hate each other.” When Diane Primeaux met Ron Brown their date ended with a request from Ron, “if you ever decide to get married, will you marry me?” That started the voyage of my parents. My father went off to Vietnam, and my mom to the summer camp with my father’s sister Marcia. They stayed in touch through the war and when Ron returned they were married on August 12, 1967.
Memorial Day offers us a time to reflect on the military service past and present. My father spent time in the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam as a radio operator during the war. Upon returning he was offered a job at IBM through a special program for veterans and he worked there for 33 years. My dad was a happy man with a laugh that was contagious, and he also was a haunted man. His experience in Vietnam changed him forever. He supported me in all my activities but seldom watched any of my basketball games. It was an unspoken issue that the loud sounds of the gymnasium reminded him of the bombs and the memories of friends he lost. He did not talk about his experience, and focused on being an example of a hard worker for me and my sister. The one thing my dad consistently told me throughout my childhood was that I could do anything I set my mind to – and for that dad, thank you.
My dad died one day before his 63rd birthday of a brain tumor. My mom wonders if there is a tie to his death and the radio frequencies he was exposed to in war. We will never know, but I was honored to be by his side when he passed away in 2005 with the sounds of Bob Dylan, his favorite artist, playing in the background. That revolutionary singer gave my father comfort in the turmoil after Vietnam, and I hope gave him comfort in his last hours. This month we honor memories that are blowing in the wind.