Friday, September 23, 2016

Vietnam: The Story I Never Knew

I've published this poem on my blog once before, when I didn't have anything else to share. It was written during a poetry seminar my junior year of college in Boston. I had no accurate information, so I made up what I thought could've  possibly happened when my father left for Vietnam. The only true information I had was that he and my mother were married, and based on my birth date in May 1971, I had to have been conceived sometime in August of 1970. I can guarantee you that my father never wore a leather fringed vest and bell-bottom jeans. My dad hadn't yet graduated from what I recently learned was called Wisconsin State University in Whitewater.
Recently I went through several photo albums in my parents' basement, one which was devoted to my dad's life shortly before and during his time in Vietnam.
I was born two weeks before he left for Saigon. Mom was pregnant with me when she and my Grandma Porath, my paternal grandmother, traveled to Missouri to watch him graduate from Basic Training. I'm not sure if they were married yet; their official wedding invitations list their wedding date as 01-30-71 but because my mom got pissed off and called off the wedding, they actually got married on 01-23-71. I was born on 05-14-71 and was baptized at Peace Church in Shawano roughly two weeks later because within days of  my baptism, my father got onto on a military plane and headed to Vietnam for a year.
Here is my baby picture taken at Shawano Memorial Hospital on the day I was born:

Aren't I adorable?? :-) This photo was the first photographic record of my presence in the world. Dad stayed until I was baptized then he left to fight in the war. I can't say this was "his war" with the same sense of national pride felt by both of my grandfathers who fought in WWII; Grandpa Porath in North Africa and then in France on "D+3", three days after D-Day, 06-09-44. My maternal grandfather went to the Pacific courtesy of the US government draft. He spent most of his service in the Philippines, including earning the Bronze Star, but he also served in Okinawa Japan toward the end of the war.
So apparently Rog left in early June 1971 to complete his duty as called upon by the US President. Dad also needed more money to complete his undergrad degree in Accounting (with an Economics minor) and he had calculated what the GI Bill would cover and, in weighing his options, he decided to serve and then take every advantage those benefits provided him. Smart thinking on Rog's part as the GI Bill helped him finish his undergrad Accounting Degree, help finance the purchase of my parents first (and only) home in Appleton, and pay for his graduate school at UW-Oshkosh where he earned his MBA while going to night school.

Over the years I've flipped through Dad's single album documenting his time in Vietnam because I'm "the family story teller/genealogist" but this time I took the photos out of the album to copy them via my scanner/printer and I discovered the most amazing thing: on the back of the vast majority of dad's pictures are notes he wrote to my mom. Had I never taken these pictures out of their 40+ year old album, I never would have discovered the brief but informative and touching notes he wrote to her.

Here are my two favorites:
This is my dad "sunbathing" and spending some time doing some light reading according to what was written on the back of this photo:

Needless to say, this is generally something a daughter wouldn't have interest in reading about her parents and despite my father's handwriting always bordering on "doctor level" of illegibility to a lay person, I'm thankful that I have no understanding of the second paragraph after the first sentence and I am completely fine with that!
This puzzle has hung in my parents' basement since I can remember. Now I know it's origin story and why it's been hanging in the basement will all other Packers gear. This puzzle made it home from Vietnam... just like my dad.

Although there are approximately 40 photos I could post in this blog, there's only one more I want to share:
This is my dad in his existential, questioning the purpose of the world pose, and of course there's a message on the back:
And to end this discovery of my father's life as a soldier in a foreign county, I leave you with some lyrics from Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" as I image my Grandma Porath asking herself these very questions during that year from 1971-1972:

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways
I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall

Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded with hatred
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Love to my father, Roger Porath, Vietnam Veteran, Old Glory Honor Flight EAA: