A Story of Thanksgiving, My Brother, and Vietnam
Basic Training, 1967 in Fort Jackson, SC
Photos of My Brother in Vietnam
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.
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!