I know you remember that day well, 49 summers ago standing in the rice patty with my father as you heard the thud of a bullet hitting a body. Nanoseconds later you heard the rifle report, and for a split second you and my father knew one of you had been hit, but was not sure which one. Unfortunately, it was you.
You never returned to the United States again, even though you made it through boot camp, became best friends with my Dad, and did two tours of duty in Vietnam. To die three days before your return home hardly seems fair.
The Survivor Guilt is deep within my dad, even now, but he picked himself up by his boot laces and did well these past 49 years. He has used his medic training to save two lives doing tracheotomy’s on the side of the road to save car accident victims, opened his home to hundreds of foster children, had three children of his own and adopted six more. He’s done some good despite the memories of Vietnam.
The sad thing is, I will never know your real name. Dad never talks about Vietnam and it is too painful to ask what your real name is. Butch is all I will ever know.
I have touched your name once though, on the wall in Washington, DC. I was too small to remember the name, but small enough so that I could be put on my Uncles shoulders and rub your name with chalk onto a piece of paper as Dad cried…really cried. I had never seen my Dad cry before, but of all the names…one name…your name…touched him the most.
Despite 49 years of silence, one thing needs to be said. Not from my Dad, but from me Butch. Thanks for taking that bullet for my Dad.
Written by Travis Johnson, son of a combat disabled Vietnam Veteran