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A Story of Thanksgiving, My Brother, and Vietnam

Basic Training, 1967 in Fort Jackson, SC

My brother, taken in Fort Jackson, SC during basic training.
My brother, taken in Fort Jackson, SC during basic training.

Photos of My Brother in Vietnam

This is my brother, John, while he was in Vietnam.
This is my brother, John, while he was in Vietnam.
John in what he described as the fastest vehicle on base.
John in what he described as the fastest vehicle on base.
Orphans in Vietnam taken on Thanksgiving Day, 1968
Orphans in Vietnam taken on Thanksgiving Day, 1968
John in front of the helicopter he had to maintain.
John in front of the helicopter he had to maintain.
A full view of the helicopter
A full view of the helicopter
Another view of John getting on the helicopter.
Another view of John getting on the helicopter.

What Does Thanksgiving, My Brother and Vietnam Have in Common? Let Me Tell You.

My big brother, whose name is John, was just 3 years older then me. We both graduated high school in the 60's. He was the best brother anyone could have. He watched out for me all through school. He was a real gentleman, good in sports and the all the girls liked him. In fact, he had many friends. He was just that type of person. He went to college for four years and was now graduating.

This is where the story starts that I would like to tell you about.

We didn't get our mail that day until we came home from Johnny's graduation ceremony at Wilkes College. To our surprise, in the mail box was a letter waiting for him from the United States Army. He got his draft notice the very day he graduated from college. We kind of expected it, but not that day. You see, then the Vietnam war was raging and most of our young men were drafted if they didn't sign up themselves. You had no choice. What could we do, except pray, pray, pray.

He was to report for basic training on Thanksgiving Day, that same year. He couldn't even get a job that summer because no one wanted to hire someone that was going to leave in a couple of months.

My mother wouldn't let him go without a Thanksgiving dinner, so we celebrated Thanksgiving that year a week early. My two older sisters who lived in New Jersey at the time, came in with their families. We have a close knit family; many aunts, uncles and cousins. A typical Italian family.

After basic training,which was in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he was to report to Fort Dix, NJ, where he was going to be transported to Vietnam. My father and I drove him there. My mother couldn't bring herself to come, She was broken hearted and could not have made that trip.

When we got there we saw so many other soldiers with their families. It was like a little town. We were able to stay the whole day with him and then it came the time when everyone was to leave, Everyone holding on to their sons, brothers, boy friends, and in some cases husbands; not wanting to let them go and crying.

No one knew if this was the last time they were to see them alive.

My father, who was not a man of many tears, had tears streaming down his face and I of course, having to leave my only brother, the brother I loved could hardly contain myself. I was still a teenager then. My brother was trying to be brave, but it was hard. The drive home was very quiet.

We communicated through letters sent in special air-mail envelopes and also we left messages on tapes played on tape cassettes and we sent them through the mail. Our children now don't even know what they are. When he got there he made friends with a soldier who was to leave for home in a month because he was already there for 11 months and he was going to get married. He took my brother under his wing and showed him how to survive in that God forsaken place. Just before this soldier was to go home, they left that morning for their rounds and that young man died of a single gun shot wound from a sniper hiding in a tree. My brother was devastated. I still remember the letter he sent telling us that story.

You may notice a bandage around my brother wrist, he got wounded while on the helicopter flying over, where ever. We were told not to tell my mother, She never saw that picture.

They made him a helicopter mechanic but he also had to use a rifle, just in case. You were told what your duty was, you did not select it.

One More Story or Two!


My sisters would send him letters and pictures through the mail. One picture was of my sister, Joyce and myself after I had lost a lot of weight. We made him a sign saying how much we missed him. He saved that picture and put it on the bulletin board and as they would leave in the morning, the other boys in his barrack would all touch the picture for luck.

Of course, there were many stories, but this particular one sticks in my mind. John and another soldier were returning from their R & R (Rest and Recuperation) time. They were not allowed to take their weapons at that time. They were crossing a huge field when a sniper in a tree started shooting at them. Both boys dropped to the ground and just laid there until he stopped shooting. When he jumped out of the tree they noticed he was not much older then 14 or 15, the Vietnamese soldiers were very young and he was a bad shot. He ran away, I guess as scared as my brother and the other soldier was. They were open targets. Thank God for watching over them.

What the soldiers did for me!


It was my birthday the following December. I turned 19 and I got a package in the mail. It was from my brother. It was a tape that he recorded of all the boys that were there that day before heading out to duty singing "Happy Birthday" to me. I cried and laughed and cried again. I couldn't believe they took the time to sing to me knowing that there was a good chance one or more of them would not make it through that day.

That's our boys, our men, our soldiers. Not only brave, but caring and thoughtful. Not only then but today's soldiers also. That's why they deserve our respect and our prayers every day.

Conclusion:


Needless to say we're grateful and thankful to God for sparing him and letting my brother come back home. It was 1969.

Later he met and married the perfect girl for him and they had one beautiful daughter and two handsome sons.

My brother died 2 years ago of a sudden heart attack. He is missed greatly, first by his family and by my sisters and me.



This answers the question, of what my brother Thanksgiving and Vietnam have to do with each other!




Thanksgiving Menu in Vietnam, 1968

This was what our soldiers received on Thanksgiving Day, 1968. Check out the nice menu. At least they were fed well for the holiday, considering where they were and what they were going through. God bless our soldiers!

This was sort of an invitation to the dinner.
This was sort of an invitation to the dinner.
This is the menu for Thanksgiving Day, 1968
This is the menu for Thanksgiving Day, 1968

Up to Date Photo

Left to right: my sister, Christine, me, my brother, my sisters, Joyce and Marian.  My father sitting down.  My mother had passed away by this time.
Left to right: my sister, Christine, me, my brother, my sisters, Joyce and Marian. My father sitting down. My mother had passed away by this time. | Source

Comments 34 comments

Marian Boni 12 months ago

Rachel, this brought tears to my eyes. My dear brother John, is truly missed. You did a great job writing this article. You are not only a wonderful cook and baker but add a great writer to the list. Very proud of you with your many talents.

Thank you for giving our Brother John his honor. We were very blessed to have had a special brother. John was so proud of his family and loved them so much. Most of all he loved the Lord.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 12 months ago from The Beautiful South

This really is such a precious story Rachel and it brings back many memories of that time and all the ones who died needlessly. Thankfully your brother did come home and had a family and I know you all thank God for that. He is gone but I know thought of daily with so much love.

I am so pleased you shared this with us and I hope after a spell you can bring us another one.

I always found it so healing to talk about my mother in little stories here and although most have been removed they served such a great purpose to my soul. Hope you can share your mom with us one day. You speak from the heart and that is always a good story!

Sharing this everywhere I can!


truthfornow profile image

truthfornow 12 months ago from New Orleans, LA

Such a nice story. I am glad that he was able to return home. I know that so many boys did not return home. The story reminds that there is much to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving.


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 12 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

Hi Marian, Thanks so much for your compliments. You and all of us love Johnny and we will always miss him. Thanks for commenting.

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving.


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 12 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

Hi Jackie, I'm glad you liked the story. I'm not a writer, that was the first I attempted to write a story, even though it was a true story. I appreciate your comment and visit and encouragement.

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving.


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 12 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

Hi Marie (truthfornow), thank you for the visit and taking the time to read my story about my brother. I appreciate your comment also.

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving.


ThePracticalMommy profile image

ThePracticalMommy 12 months ago from United States

I never saw any photos of Uncle John there or heard any stories. I know it wasn't something he liked to talk about, and I can imagine why. He is very missed.


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 12 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

Thank you, Marissa. I like your visits and comments. He didn't talk too much in the beginning, but he did tell a few stories. Some I couldn't write about. It was very hard for him when he first came home, his personality changed a bit, but as time went by, he was back to his old self.

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving.


Chris 12 months ago

Rachel, this was so nice about John. I have never heard this story or have never seen these pictures. So nice to remember our brother in this way. Made me cry, thank you.

Love you


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 12 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

Hi Chris, You were so small, I guess no one thought to tell you stories, but over the years, someone should have. He really didn't talk too much about it. Thanks for reading and commenting. Love you too.

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 12 months ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Rachel,

I was going to read one of your great recipes but this caught my eye. Both of my brothers...John and Jim...served in Vietnam. My brother Jim was a crew chief aboard helicopters. John was in the Navy. Both survived Vietnam however Jim was injured at Fort Hood (after Vietnam) and suffered numerous operations the rest of his short life. He was in the hospital after the helicopter accident for 9 months before he ever got his first weekend pass. Our Vietnam vets were not treated kindly when they returned home. Sad episode in our nation's history.

Thanks for sharing the story of your brother John with us. Happy Thanksgiving to you and all of nation's military families...those active military now serving and all those who have retired. And bless those who have entered the next life. We owe them much!


CorneliaMladenova profile image

CorneliaMladenova 12 months ago from Cork, Ireland

Beautiful story, Rachel. And so sad. Thank God your brother survived the war and went home safe and sound. Wars are terrible. They should never happen but to our regret there are too many of them again :(


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 12 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

Hi Peggy, You are right about our vets not treated right, especially those who came back from Vietnam. It was a shame. I'm sorry about your brothers. Thank you for reading my story. I never wrote one before and wasn't sure about it.

Have Blessed Thanksgiving.


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 12 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

Hi Cornelia, I agree, wars are terrible. There's not much we can do about them, unfortunately. We can pray. Thank you for visiting and reading my story. I appreciate it.

Blessings to you.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 12 months ago from sunny Florida

O dear sweet Rachel...such moving story ....and you have reason to be thankful even though your precious brother is gone. You have the many lovely memories to help soothe the pain of missing him.

Angels are on the way and wishes for yet another wonderful Thanksgiving this year. ps

shared


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 12 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

Thank you, Pat for reading my story. I never wrote one before, but Jackie Lynnley encouraged me after reading part of it before. I do still miss him and his widow and children do so much. Thank you for your encouraging words.

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving.


Barb DeNoble 12 months ago

Rachel, that was a beautifully written tribute to John and all the men who served, many giving the ultimate sacrifice. We need to have Thanksgiving in our hearts everyday for the freedoms we enjoy ! Very well done, my dear friend !!!


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 12 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

Hi Barb, Thanks for the encouragement and for reading my hub. They say freedom isn't free.

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 12 months ago from the short journey

What a precious post! Thank you for sharing some of your brother's life and your family's history with us, especially since it centered around this season. Your brother looks like such a sweet person, all your family look like such nice people.

The part about how they touched the photograph before leaving was almost too much to read. For good luck, maybe they said, but the image of them reaching out across time and space to connect with family via that picture before again doing their duty each day, not knowing if they would ever see theirs again, well, oh me… Thank you for mentioning that our military deserve our respect and prayers.

I've cried through th epos, for like so many others our ages, I have experience with your history. I always look very closely at group pictures from that war just in case I might see my brother in one of them as I have so few of him. My brother was 6 years older than me and went to Vietnam on graduating from high school in 1966.

He had been a good brother to me, acting like a father at times. I was still in grade school when he went. He told me that the childish letters I sent were amusing to his buddies there. He was given medals for his service, but he never told me about them. I learned of them much later. He died 7 years ago. I am thankful to remember that he served his country with honor.


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 12 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

Hi RTalloni, Thank you so much for your heartfelt response. Your brother is my age, I graduated in 1966 also. You must know how we felt with your brother off to Vietnam also. No war is easy or good but that war was one that we weren't even sure why we were there. I knew it something to do with helping the S. Vietnamese people from the communist north. My brother said there was a lot of high weeds and jungles an the weather was awful. The monsoon started right after he got there. I'm glad your brother was able to come home also. I'm sure they loved your letters, they loved hearing from home. Thanks again for visiting and reading and commenting on my hub.

Have a Blessed thanksgiving.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 12 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

Thank you for this sad but lovely hub, Rachel. It's a very appropriate article for Thanksgiving because it prompts us to think about what really matters in life. Best wishes to you.


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 12 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

Hi Alicia, Thank you for reading my story and the lovely comments. Many blessings to you also.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 12 months ago from Queensland Australia

Wonderful story and tribute to you brave brother John, Rachel. Thank you for sharing this well written and touching story. I was about 12 years old when they were drafting for the Vietnam War, so I thank God I was too young, and glad your brother came home safely.


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 12 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

Thank you so much, Jodah for taking the time to read my story. All of it was true and yes, thank God you were too young at the time.

Have a Blessed Christmas.


Jay C OBrien profile image

Jay C OBrien 12 months ago from Houston, TX USA

What have we learned from Vietnam? Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria offer the US a choice: go to war or avoid it. The Vietnamese just wanted the US to go home. Perhaps we should stay out of the Middle East. Do not react to terrorism with fear. For once, let us stay out of trouble overseas.

During Vietnam some people remained students to avoid the military. Others went to Canada and others joined the Quakers (a Peace Church). It is best not to fight where you are not wanted and the "enemy" cannot be identified from "friend."


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 12 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

No body wanted the Vietnam war, but with the draft, there was no choice. The only thing I got out of it at that time was trying to help the South Vietnam people from communist north. Being only 16 at the time, I didn't understand the politics of it, I just wanted my brother to come home safely. Thank you for your input.

Blessings to you.


Jay C OBrien profile image

Jay C OBrien 12 months ago from Houston, TX USA

Somebody wanted to go to war in Vietnam and made provision for it. Paranoid politicians sold the idea we were threatened and we should go overseas to fight and kill other people. Perhaps the politicians just wanted to make money on arms sales. WE as individuals HAVE A CHOICE as to whether we follow our leaders. See earlier post for some options.

When you cannot differentiate "friend" from "foe," whom do you kill? Do not follow bad leadership. Do not forget the widows and orphans left behind or the PTSD of soldiers in combat. Was Vietnam worth it?

Vietnam then is Syria now. Let us not make the same mistake.


aesta1 profile image

aesta1 12 months ago from Ontario, Canada

Rachel, tears came to my eyes as I read this. We were in Hanoi the past few years and have many Vietnamese friends and when I look at some of them, I knew that they fought during the war. One friend lost 6 of his brothers. What a sad war that was. I am glad your brother came back. Your picture indeed brought them luck.


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 12 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

Hi aesa1, Thank you for reading my story. It was just a personal story about some of what my family and brother went through at that time. I'm happy you liked it.

Have a Blessed Christmas.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 12 months ago from California

Beautiful story Rachel!


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 12 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

Thank you Audrey for your visit and for taking the time to read my story.

Have a Blessed Christmas.


Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 6 months ago

That is a great story from the homefront view. It gives a good glimpse of what it was like having a loved one go to Vietnam. Sorry about the loss of your brother.


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 6 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

Hi Jay C O'Brien, I appreciate what you are saying. The Vietnam war was one of our most disagreeable wars. But it is in the pas and hopefully we have learned from it. But, the post was mostly about my brother and how I remembered Thanksgiving that year. It wasn't a pleasant memory; a thoughtful one. Thank you for your opinion and for the visit.

Blessings to you.


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 6 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking Author

Hi Robert Sacchi,

I appreciate your visit and really nice comment. Thank you so much for your understanding what I was trying to accomplish and for your sympathy greeting.

Blessings to you.

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