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So long, Old Nam Vet

So long, Old Nam Vet

So long, Old Nam Vet

Today I’m writing about my father, a two time Purple Heart recipient of the Vietnam conflict. He fathered five boys in his 65 years of life. He was also married 4 times. As a father, he was a hard man to get along with. So hard in fact, most of us couldn’t wait to get out of the house, never to come back unless it was absolutely necessary! During that time we grew apart.

As a child, I grew up resenting him. His constant yelling and verbal abuse took its toll on all of us. He always seemed so stressed out, angry, and detached. I could never understand why. So over time, I just figured he was an asshole. This relationship carried on for about 20 years.

What I did not realize, was that he had made some changes in his life. I was too blinded by resentment to really care. You see, in the last 20 years he divorced his third wife, remarried a sickly woman who died a few years later. On top of that, both his mother and father died as well. I guess you could say life really kicked him in the nuts. Once all the dust settled, he hooked up with a woman 20 years younger than him. So began his journey of enlightenment, if you will. This younger gal is a real go getter who will not take “I can’t” for an answer. It was just what the old man needed.

dad_vietnam_1968 (1)My father was always one to earn his own way. He never went without a job for 45 years! He never wanted or asked for any handouts. He was forced into retirement and started to panic about income. In late 2012 to early 2013 he started to have some pain in his abdomen. Most of us just figured it was stress. Well his girlfriend just happens to know about the benefits war vets are entitled to, so she took him to the VA and got him all signed up. On one of the many trips to the VA, my father picked up a pamphlet on PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). He almost started crying right there in the office. He said “It was like reading a book about me!” Once he started to get help for it, you could sense the relief in his voice. He called my brothers and me, and apologized for being such a jerk all the time. He didn’t even know they had a name for what he was going through. Mere words were not enough for me. I was just like” whatever, I have my own life and problems man”. He wanted us to give him credit for realizing his wrongs and starting over, but I didn’t.

I had not seen my father in a long time. On his 65th birthday, they had a little get together. My family and I were sitting in the banquet room waiting for them to arrive. I wasn’t expecting anything at all really, that is until my dad walked in. He looked like he was 110 years old! His cane in hand, all hunched over barely able to walk. I had to excuse myself! I went out in the truck and cried like a baby for about 5 minutes. What happened to the proud angry bastard I’ve known my whole life? I knew then that what he had was more than stress.

Within days after his party, he could no longer sustain himself at home. So they rushed him to the VA and got him a bed. He was there for four days. I only left his side to go home and sleep. During those four days we had several long chats. We were able to re bond to a degree and make up for some lost time. Staying by his side for that time was one of the best choices of my life, for I was with him when he got the news.

The doctors told him that he had malignant melanoma, cancer on his organs. They told him that there is nothing they can do for him. He looked the doctors straight in the face and said these words: “I should have died so many times already. I got to come home, there were 50,000 of us that didn’t. I can’t complain at all, thank you doctor.” It was then and there that I think I finally understood my father. He lived his entire life never able to forget things he had seen and done in Vietnam. He was never able to escape the “Screw it, I’m probably going to die anyway” mentality. Keeping his deepest emotions tucked away where nobody could get to them. We were raised up thinking love is just known, not shown. He was just happy to get through a day, let alone a month or year. I wonder how many vets are living this way today with our endless wars in the Middle East and elsewhere.

He didn’t die that week in the hospital. They got him re-hydrated and holding in some food, then sent him on his way. With there being no history of cancer in my family, they did some research and found that his condition is most likely from exposure to Agent Orange. He told us a story of a place they used to drive through they called “Sleepy Hallow”. No birds, trees, bushes, or bugs! Everything was dead from the chemical. He still didn’t break down any, not in front of anyone.

We all spent Thanksgiving at his little place in Arizona that he calls his ranch. Frail and weak, he still has hope that he will get through all of this somehow. They called in hospice to check on him once a week and refill his pain meds. I fear he will not make it to Christmas. One of his last wishes was to go duck hunting. He fears the weather would be too much for him to bear. He doesn’t think it would be fair for him to go off and die in a duck blind, when his girlfriend and her two children are trying to keep him alive. I say in a duck blind is a hell of a way to go, but ok.

In parting, I would just like to thank my dad for teaching me how to hunt and fish. I will never forget waking up at 3:00am so we could have the decoys set or all the shad net before the sun came up. Our friends used to think we were crazy, but the memories I have are priceless. I will never forget looking at my dad with his cigarette hanging off his lip in the ice cold air as we motored across the lake in the old duck boat. I thank my father for never missing any of my sporting events. Even though I resented his angry ass, it still meant a lot to me that he was there. He showed me it is more fun to make things rather than buy them. Most of all, I thank you for showing me how to wear the armored shield of a real man. Even with death staring you in the face, you still keep going. For anyone who has ever lived with someone who was battling with PTSD you will understand these final words to my father most of all; “The Nam finally got ya pops. You can rest when you’re ready to. I will be with you until the end….. So long, Old Nam Vet.”

God… Bless America

Wood

And Father… you are not gone yet and there is a chance you may read this. I rather hope you do, because I can probably write my feelings better than say them anyway. You raised us to be tough after all. But you deserve to know everything you’ve been to me and everything you will continue to be for me long after you go. Because of your actions, you will never really be gone… you’ll be right here, no matter what. I carry not only your blood, but your memory as well.  I am a lucky son, and I hope you know how proud of you I really am. We wasted years because of things we misunderstood. No longer. I am at peace. I hope you know that all is forgiven. I just hope you can forgive me, and I hope with all that I am that you can finally find your peace too. Here’s to you dad!

Tommy Sylvanie

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I am a 37 year old family man who just started to get informed on what’s been going on in the world and at home.

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22 thoughts on “So long, Old Nam Vet

  1. Avatar Mike

    Wood..very nice piece. My old man was something I never wanted to be, but in his last week I too stayed with him until the end. A soldier and heavy drinker, my dads words in the end were I’m sorry..enough for me, but you know when I look in the mirror…my old man and me are a lot alike, just minus some rough edges. Love breaks all boundaries….damn nice piece man.

  2. Avatar americadied1913

    Wood, I soldiered with your Dad and many like him. I was an inlisty at 16 years old and entered active duty on my 17 birthday, at this time (1974) the war was whinding down, but not for the guys that rotated back from Nam. These guys were brutal to us FNG’s (fucking new guys) and refused to know any of us. Later I found out it was nothing we had done, but, what we had not done. We never saw the Suck first hand, and for this we were outcast’s, excluded and abused by are leaders like no man can understand. I never blamed them, I just never understood why they hated us so much. On several days I was beaten and hospitalised by Returning Vet’s from Nam to Italy and from Nam to Germany, always the same reason, drugs and alcohol induced rage caused by the attempt to escape the scenes playing over and over in thier heads. War causes several emotions in survivors, the worst is guilt and for them this was because they were just following orders. Our country failed these men and this is why I refused to allow any of my four children to enter the Armed Services. My three years of active duty brought me around Agent Orange and more stress than most prisoners have ever faced, More stress than most consintration victims ever experienced because my captors wore the same uniform as me, swore the same oath as me, and was there for the same reason as me, the difference between us was the un just SUCK they were forced to wittness. I have learned not to blame them, but the Government that sent them in to Nam for the Corporations that found resources worth stealing from others. I will keep your Dad in my prayers if you don’t mind.

    1. Wood Wood

      He passed away on New years morning, thanks for the kind thoughts and I’ll see you around.

  3. This is the second reading through this article. It was so powerful I had to come back a second time. Absolutely great read.

  4. Avatar Shelbie Sylvanie

    This is very touching and it makes one think about their own life and relationship with their parents and how one would feel if we were in your shoes. God does great things, even things we believe to be cruel and unusual. Just know that this closure is only the beginning to something great and it helps you realize you hope to to never miss the years and endure the pain and anger you did during your distance with your father with your children. I am a new member of this Sylvanie clan, but I do know that from what I’ve seen, heard, and felt in my heart that your father is an amazing man who is well respected and deserves to be happy amd healthy, weather it be here in this unfair world with his loving family, or the arms of God in a perfect world of no pain. Bless you for the courage to speak your mind and let your heart open. That is extremely courageous. I am so blessed to be apart of such a strong, yet a bit unusual family. ♥

    1. Wood Wood

      Thanks Shelbie, unusual family it is for sure.

  5. Avatar Deb Ware Jesus

    I knew him before and after Nam-it changed us all.I always respected the fact that he stood up for what he believed in. You were lucky to have him as a father. Go in peace Steve!

  6. Avatar Darcee Werly Romero

    Oh my Gosh I had No Idea Steve was even Sick!!! Tommy I am totally impressed that you wrote that Awesome Story! From the First ” Boy Friends” I had growing up Your Daddy LOVED Me!! I didn’t get to see Angry Dad to often! Steve you are an Awesome Dad (and Terry and Tommy turned out to be really Great Guys) and you were a Pretty Cool Boss! My Heart and prayers are with you all at this Difficult time!! I Love you Guys!

  7. Avatar Kimberly Motley Stone

    You’re lucky to have a father you can be proud of. He’s lucky he had children he can leave that legacy with. God bless you and your family. : )

  8. Wood Wood

    Sorry for all the spelling errors! I need to fire my proof reader…lol

    1. Wood Wood

      Thanks Kim, long time no see…lol

  9. Avatar Adam Falcon

    Damn good read Wood. Thanks for sharing. I understand your words more than I choose to describe at this time. I don’t want it to seem like Im trying throw my similar situation out there to take away from this good article. This article is for your Pop. So Long Old Nam Vet.

    1. Wood Wood

      Adam, this was for all the Vets out there having a hard time. Share with your loved ones and maybe it will help them understand more.I hope to reach all I can so that maybe other sons and fathers don’t waste so many years.

  10. Avatar Kelly Jackson

    Tommy, You Truly have a gift of words and should pursue your dreams of making a difference in the world. I truly love your Dad with all my heart, my Grandmother once told me that I have an old soul, this is perhaps why my attraction my entire life has been to older, wiser souls. I feel that something in him has been enlightened by some guidance from a younger soul, reaching out to his children is one thing, having a relationship, expressing his true feelings, and letting that stubborn guard down. Your words brought him to tears, not of sadness, but of understanding, that through all of it, you have forgiven him for his passed mistakes, as I have said to him for the last four years, we cannot look back, we can learn from our mistakes, change, and go forward. I know you all had it tough..I truly do, God Bless you for your words and understanding and continue to share your thoughts, you are an eloquent writer, IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO PURSUE YOUR DREAMS, EVER..Love, Kelly

    1. Tommy Tommy

      I’m Happy Dad read it kelly.

  11. The fine line between love and hate seems to always come to us when we least expect it and I am glad to hear that you have a new and lasting memory deep inside you of your father.

    We all experience life in our own way, some harder than others. Some by choice and others by situation, but in the end it is the life that we lived and I’m sure you father has lived a life with both ups and down’s like us all. In the worst of time and remembering the best you will always love your father and pass his memory on to your children as well.

    Your father lives on.

  12. Avatar Daremo San

    That was a very good read, Wood. It brings up mixed feelings for me because I’ve been through something very similar myself but unfortunately there wasn’t complete reconciliation at the end, kind of the opposite actually. Perspective has and always will change hearts and minds I guess but we don’t all make the proper stops along the roads we choose to take… and in some cases… roads we are forced down. From what I’ve read here, you have a hell of a father, one that any son would be proud of… and if you ask me… he did good work with you.

    Godspeed for your father as he makes his journey to the other side of things we can’t understand from our limited perspectives. You mentioned priceless memories of your father from your youth. I’m sure in these remaining moments (which are all any of us really have) you are going to build on that… and in doing so… you are continuing to be that man an Old Nam Vet will always be proud to call his son.

  13. Avatar Tim

    Very nice Tommy, well said. I remember those day with your dad. I too sent him a message for taking me hunting and fishing. I also thanked him for you and your brothers. Another Old Nam Vet. on his final mission. God speed Steve!

    “Timmy”

  14. Avatar Robert Tonti

    Thank you for sharing ….GOD Bless all Vets !

  15. Avatar jeri tonti

    so glad you both have found the peace you deserve

  16. I couldn’t agree with David anymore.. this was beautifully written. You brought me to tears. Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

  17. Very powerful Wood… thank you for sharing that with us. I’m sure that took a lot of courage but I think it’s great that were you able to do that. Beautiful piece for sure.

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