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Katharine K.’s Story
Shared on July 26, 2017
On my 16th bday mom gotten sentimental. She gave me a hand written letter from my dad he wrote from Vietnam when I was born. From the original envelope, dated June 1966 I pulled out a faded letter of the great news of becoming a father while serving his 1st. tour in combat.“My Dearest Sue, I’m happiest man in world today.” Telling his wife how proud he was of his baby being born on D-day but 22 yrs. later. I imagining the sounds of his Polish accent in the room with us. I felt a connection to my daddy. Mom continued reading aloud, “If my daughter asks me in future, where were you daddy when I was born? I will tell her, young girl, when you were born, I was on the Ho Chi Minh Trail close to Cambodian, surrounded by 2 battalions of N.Vietnamese Communist, not realizing that your mom brought the life to you.”
She handed me a small box, telling me, “Your father wanted you to have this on your 16th bday.” I opened it, and pulled out a necklace. The power of the letter had changed my view of my parents. She told me to keep the letter; It’s forever yours.” She explained that we would be taking a trip to DC in Nov. They will have a special ceremony and we have been invited to attend.
We stood on the streets in DC on that cold day in Nov. watching the Veterans walk in the parade. We followed them down towards Lincoln Memorial. I wore my leather coat, and a floppy brown hat. We kept moving, following the crowds. I had no idea where we going, I knew it had something to do with my dad. “Follow mom,” I told my sister. I started to notice news camera crews and crowds standing outside of a small fenced in area. The marching stopped. It became silent. My mother spoke to a few gentleman and we passed through the gates. The news crews were being told to back off and to give us privacy. I was handed a small American flag and a special memorial pin, which I proudly pinned onto my jacket. My mother walked in front, we followed her in a downward motion onto the newly landscaped pathway. She seemed to be walking faster, as if she knew where she was going. The media encircled the entire group of Veterans and family members of this new monument. Speakers were loudly announcing the next guest, as the band played on above the grassy knoll. A voice came over the intercom asking for a moment of silence, I figured it was coming to an end. My sis asked, “When are we going to eat, I’m hungry,” I ignored her. The crowds all gathered, ready to step forward and were instructed to touch the wall, to reach and find the names of our loved ones. Blank papers were handed out easily by volunteers so that we could make rubbings, there were array of people everywhere; She stood before the ominous 10 ft blk. wall. I stood silently behind mom as she reflected quietly. I waited for her, not knowing what to do. I didn’t react, I wasn’t sure how much time she needed to be alone even with all the commotion around us, as I watched her standing alone, spending time looking up at her husband’s name, my dad. Within minutes, my mother uttered the words above the cool dreary air “I approve” I did not understand the original meaning of these words. Today I realize how intelligent my mother was when she was referencing the controversy surrounding the creation of the monument, and at the same time demonstrating how much she actually understood beyond her quiet reserved facade. I did not fully understand the impact of losing a dad, or the significant of my mother’s deepest loss until our trip to DC. I felt content for my mother’s validation by the Yale student who designed it, when mom said,”I approve”. The architectural design impacted our family by penetrating an old deep sacred wound that re-opened. Mom had finally shared her delicate words adding “This place is private, like a carved out scar.” I will forever be grateful for my first visit, and each revisit I seek closure, I bring a copy of the letter that daddy wrote when I was born place it at panel 21 W.
Sponsored in part by
Retired Officers’ Corporation at Freedom Plaza
Production Credits: THE VIETNAM WAR is a production of Florentine Films and WETA, Washington D.C. Directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Written by Geoffrey C. Ward. Produced by Sarah Botstein, Lynn Novick and Ken Burns.
Funding Credits: Funding provided by: Bank of America; Corporation for Public Broadcasting; PBS; David H. Koch; The Blavatnik Family Foundation; Park Foundation; The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations; The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; National Endowment for the Humanities; The Pew Charitable Trusts; Ford Foundation Just Films; Rockefeller Brothers Fund; and Members of The Better Angels Society: Jonathan & Jeannie Lavine, Diane & Hal Brierley, Amy & David Abrams, John & Catherine Debs, Fullerton Family Charitable Fund, The Montrone Family, Lynda & Stewart Resnick, The Golkin Family Foundation, The Lynch Foundation, The Roger & Rosemary Enrico Foundation, Richard S. & Donna L. Strong Foundation, Bonnie & Tom McCloskey, Barbara K. & Cyrus B. Sweet III, The Lavender Butterfly Fund