It was the sixties and the Vietnam War was heating up. I was small then and my daddy was 101st Airborne. I stood with my brothers and sisters watching ranks of men in green fatigues load up into the planes that would take them to the jungle.
Some of them would be back early in flag draped coffins, but we were lucky. Our father always walked off the planes on his own legs. Yes, he left many times. A career soldier, my father became a Green Beret and found himself needed "in country" more than the average soldier.
I grew up on military bases, traveling around the nation and overseas. We mostly attended school on base where most of the children had parents away at war at one time or another. Few civilians know the constant anguish of knowing your parent is in such a dangerous place.
Once in a while a student suddenly left the class. You're sitting there trying to pay attention and the principle interrupts to whisper to the teacher. You know by the look on her face the worst had happened. The principle calls little Susie or Mike out into the hallway where a tearful mother awaits. Usually we never saw them again.
We kept busy, most of us trying not to add to our mothers' stress. Of course some of the children cracked and ran wild. They got into trouble in school and with the law. I had a brother like that. In a way I understand now; I didn't back then.
By the early seventies the war was winding down. I was older and the deployments were fewer. The last deployment we watched left the airstrip on Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Though my father didn't go with them, I stood with friends waving the planes off.
I was older then; old enough to know that every time those big grey or green transports fly away, they're carrying your heart away with them. It's hard to feel anything as long as your heart is in the jungle on the other side of the world trying desperately to protect our daddies from harm.
A decade later, I stood on the rails of the USS ENTERPRISE along with thousands of other men. The massive ship pulled slowly away from the dock and away from hordes of family and loved ones. In that crowd I saw a very young face looking back at me - trying desperately to send her heart across the water to protect her daddy from harm.