Miosotis Vélez Silva

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COMING HOME –

My dad is a patient in the San Juan Veterans Hospital psychiatric ward. Before that, he hadn’t been able to sleep for weeks due to violent, recurring nightmares of Vietnam. His diagnosis is critical and he is on numerous medications.

When I found out, I thought, they must be wrong. Surely they have exaggerated because my dad is a strong, caring and active person. He’s not crazy! I was in shock when I heard he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But it explained why he did things like jump into a roadside ditch one night when the fireworks began to explode at the town fair. After it was over, he climbed out and walked back home to change.

I had always dismissed his behavior as the result of growing up in a remote part of Lajas, Puerto Rico. He hadn’t used a telephone until he was seventeen. He didn’t even know what a garage was.

In 1967, on the day he turned eighteen, he signed a form and a couple of months later he packed his bags and was on his way to places he’d never even imagined. He really didn’t care much about the reason behind the war. He just knew that he needed to get out of his house, out of his parents grasp.

I imagine him, alone on an airplane flying to the United States, Germany, Vietnam and many other places and the only reason for doing so was because he had been ordered to kill anyone who was not on “his side.”

His stories of Vietnam are terrifying.  He told me of the incessant rain; how it made all the equipment they carried heavier and heavier. Then suddenly it stopped and the combination of sun and humidity was excruciating. The soldiers often went days without food or sleep. Even when they slept, they had to be cautious of snakes and other dangerous animals.

But that wasn’t the worst. One day a grenade exploded near his battalion and half of them were wiped out in an instant. I know he has more stories, but I don’t like to ask because I know how painful they are for him to relive.

As each day passes, I wait to hear news of my father’s condition. I wonder too if the desire to escape his parents was worth everything he had to go through, and is still going through. I love my dad, no matter what. But sometimes I feel that it will never be the same between us again. When he finally comes home, how will I handle it? I have a little girl whom he adores. Will it be safe to leave her with him? Maybe the medications will make him worse instead of better. I don’t really have an answer for this right now and maybe I never will.  But still these questions will always linger in my mind, floating around and popping up when I least expect.

My father has always told me he thinks the real problem with going to the war is that nobody really understands what you have been through. Nobody knows what it’s like to live with the fact that you have killed people whose faces will haunt you for the rest of your life.

Many people think that going to war is hard. My dad has always said that coming home is even harder.

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Reprinted with permission. Mancha… © Copyright, Mancha de Plátano, Inc., Cabo Rojo, 2007. All rights reserved. 

13 Comments

  1. The Nam War a lot of my childhood friends died in that war. And the ones that did come back have never been the same. It’s sad to say but these people fought for our country and the ones that did come back were forgotton. How sad is that. I hear from Family that were in the Nam war, the same stories that you just mention about your dad. The Fourth Of July they get very upset with the fire works because it bring back so many bad memories. They do not like to talk about it. All the ones that I know do not talk about Nam. God bless your Dad he may be sick due to this, but he came and in my eyes he is s hero.

  2. Liz Martinez

    The Nam War a lot of my childhood friends died in that war. And the ones that did come back have never been the same. It’s sad to say but these people fought for our country and the ones that did come back were forgotton. How sad is that. I hear from Family that were in the Nam war, the same stories that you just mention about your dad. The Fourth Of July they get very upset with the fire works because it bring back so many bad memories. They do not like to talk about it. All the ones that I know do not talk about Nam. God bless your Dad he may be sick due to this, but he came and in my eyes he is s hero.

  3. OMG…. YOU wrote this??? It’s amazing… I never knew… I saw a side of you few people know… your most intimate thoughts… te amo nena <3… you should write like this more often!!!

  4. Men, I am really sorry for why happened to your father. They all tell me the same thing. Once you go to war, you never return the same. I am really sorry for yours father bad dreams, and all the medications that he to take daily. But in the other side, you have to gave thanks to God because things could have gone worst. Daily they did not only have to face their enemys but they also have to be carefull about the snakes and other animal that can attempt to his life. He did not eat and sleep well. You father survived with a lot of obsticles in his way. your father is strong belived me. If this had happened to me. I think I will be like a zombie.

    • Thank you for your words… its never easy, but at least he came back. There are many that don’t and i thank God for that everyday…

  5. Your father is one of those many heroes who have fought and survived. As you see you will always have many questions lingering around in your head, but I’ve learned that no matter what some questions will always remain unanswered. It must be hard to live such experience and talk about it so your father has taken the first step. It might seem that because of what happened to him everything he has done before that wasn’t worth it, but who knows if that was the best choice he made cause think about it if he wouldn’t have left your history wouldn’t be your now present.

    • I have learned that everything that happens in life ( the good and the bad) makes us who we are, so no i wouldnt change anything because every experience is a piece of the whole puzzle that completes us

  6. I like that this piece touches on the psychological effects of war. Many who enlist are simply people who’ve nowhere else to go and need direction in life; direction that should be provided by a well-funded system of education. It’s unfair and exploitative.

  7. Wow. It’s crazy how people change when they are confronted with situations such as war. It must be very difficult to have witnessed so many things, and been under so much stress and then all of a sudden, take it all away, and return to a normal and innocent life. At least your father made it home, and at least he is still alive.

  8. That’s a very sad story and I felt it to the bone. My father is also a Vietnam veteran. He suffered from cancer because of the so called Agent Orange that the military spread all over there. Fortunately, he only needed surgery and fully recovered from the disease. I think he’s past his war days, it doesn’t seem to bother him anymore. Anyways, best of wishes for you and your dad. I hope he recovers promptly!

    • Know exactly how you feel. My dad now has skin cancer and hes been in treatment for almost a year. Unfortunately Veterans Admin. doesn’t see a conection between the two and wont help him in he treatment…
      But im glad your dad is ok and has survived that terrible disease

  9. “Many people think that going to war is hard. My dad has always said that coming home is even harder.” I absolutely love and agree with this saying (based on your story and others). One reads books and watches movies regarding the Vietnam war or other wars as well. Truthfully, not many people know how hard the war itself was, nor how it affected Veterans and their families. This is a great story and I really do hope you and your father can maintain a stable father-daughter relationship once he comes back home.

    • it certainly is hard but thankfully we have been able to mend our differences and we have a great relationship now 🙂

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