How I Deal with Life.....

How I Deal with Life.....

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Chapter 2: My Father's Apocalypse "The Wall"

May 2009
            My dad has always had problems associated with his time in Vietnam. He never would talk about it much, and if something came on television about it, he would either walk out of the room or turn the channel.  When I went to Washington D.C for the first time back in 1996 I called my dad the night before I went to visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall. I asked him if there was anyone’s name he wanted me to look for.  He said one name: Rodney Gott. I had never even heard that name before. I told him I would look for it 
            The next day I located the name on the black granite face, ran my fingers over the name , made a pencil rubbing on a slender strip of paper a vet working the site gave me , and shed a few tears for Sgt. Gott’s children. When I got home I gave the slip of pencil rubbed paper with Rodney Gott’s name in raised black lead to my dad. He took the paper, looked at it for a moment, mumbled, “Thanks”, and I haven’t seen that slip of paper since. I know he placed it somewhere special, but where I don’t know. Perhaps I never will.
            The Alzheimer’s has caused the PTSD to progress faster. My dad no longer has the emotional brick walls in place that protect him from the memories. The Alzheimer’s has torn his self protected walls down. Some days my mom and I don’t know which is affecting him more; the Alzheimer’s or the PTSD. He will start crying and he can’t tell us why. He just repeats, “I don’t know”. The nightmares are coming more and more frequently. Mom says dad screams out in his sleep more often. He wakes up shaking and my mom can’t calm him down. Vietnam is not in 1968 for my dad. It is here and now. He lives it each day. Ironically, the more clouded his short term memory becomes, the sharper his long term memory becomes. I hate Alzheimer’s and I hate what Vietnam does to my dad’s dreams.
            In the past few years I have considered what it would be like to go to Vietnam. To Pleiku, namely, and walk the paths my dad walked. I want to see the old base where he was stationed, close my eyes and try to hear the ghost rumblings of EC-47’s as they take off on a mission. I want to smell the air that my dad breathed for a year of his life, feel the Vietnam rains drip on my skin, taste the food, and hear the chatter of the people as they go about their daily lives. Maybe then I can understand just a little.
             I can’t relive the feelings of dread my dad experienced the day his EC-47 had to make an emergency landing deep within enemy territory. I can’t take away my dad’s grief that February in 1969 when Rodney Gott’s plane didn’t come back; nine men were lost that day. Men my dad had served with, drank beer with, and laughed with. I can’t erase the image burnt into my dad’s brain of the body bags lining the airstrip tarmac filled with young American soldiers awaiting that final trip home. I can’t obliterate the night shellings when my dad and the other men had to dive out of bed in the middle of the night as round after round of rockets bombarded the air base. I can’t take back the nights dad lay in his bunk deep in the night and missed my mother with an ache that tore right into his bones. Yet, I still want to go to Pleiku. I still want to try to see that place through my eyes, instead of his memories. I want to know what it is that wakes him up screaming and fighting for dear life forty-two years later.

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