My Dad served as a PJ in Vietnam. He went on to work recovery on the Apollo space missions and several other high profile rescue and recovery operations.
It’s not something that he’s ever really liked to talk about.
When I was a kid, I always wanted to hear Dad’s war stories. The occasions when those stories came out were very few and far between. Most frequently, those rare occasions involved hunting trips where my older brother and I would be “asleep” in the tent while Dad and his friends bonded around the campfire. We would lay stock still, feigning sleep and eavesdropping until the low rumble of the men’s voices lull us into the real thing.
Rarer still were the times at home when Dad would put us to bed and succumb to our begging that he tell us a story before leaving us to our nightly mischief.
Those stories I truly cherish.
Dad? I’m not so sure. I’m fairly certain that those are parts of his life that he would just as soon not recall.
As our Vietnam veterans have aged and as certain materials and actions have become declassified, several books have been written about the Air Force paratroopers. While sensationalized and perhaps somewhat inaccurate, The Raid by Benjamin Schemmer is probably the most notable. My Dad is also in Operation Rescue and a couple others.
I read those books as a child. I didn’t particularly enjoy them. I read them hoping for more stories like the rare, late-night gems that we infrequently managed to wrangle out of my Dad. I wasn’t equipped to understand reconstructions of the frustrations and challenges that make up high-risk, covert operations with low probabilities of success.
What I realized much later is that my Dad was carefully editing “The War” out of his stories and telling us only the funny stuff.
Another book, I Flew With Heroes by Thomas R. Waldron, was just published on the Son Tay POW raid of 1970. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but my Dad was interviewed several times and his pictures are featured prominently in the photo section at the back of the book. The photo used on the cover is also one of his. Waldron sent my Dad a copy and so I’m going to give it a read.
I’m not sure what I expect from the book, but I truly and sincerely hope that it does justice to the man.
To all of our service men and women, thank you.