"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nam Memory: Angie Caldwell

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

My Nam Memory: The Lesson
by Angie Caldwell

I know there are far more important stories out there, but I was touched by the article I read about the young bride/widow and I felt a need to reach out and share my own story. After reading the article yesterday, I thought I would share my own "Nam" memory.

In 1966, I was a 17 year-old girl living in Guam. My father was a CMSgt stationed at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam. This base was the home for all the B-52's that daily flew bombing missions. Every day was filled with the noise of these big birds revving up their engines and then the take-offs and then of course their return later. My father was a Flight Line Chief and living with these war time big birds was something we never questioned, it was a part of our life. I was a carefree teenager living on a tropical island and although I lived on an island that was heavily involved with the business of war, for some reason it just didn't affect my life. Teenagers are so self-absorbed.

One night I, and a few of my friends, got busted by the military police for trying to sneak back on base after curfew. Needless to say, the CMSgt father didn't appreciate getting called away from his post to come pick up his wayward teenage daughter. We four teenage kids were sitting in the military police office when my dad came in. He told us that since we were so eager to stay up late at night, he had something we could do. So for the next six weeks, at least four nights a week, around midnight, we reported to my father at the flight line/air terminal.

The big freight planes, C-140/141's would come in. Some would land full of young soldiers returning from Nam and they would come into the terminal to buy sodas, candy, or stretch their legs while the big planes refueled before taking off again to land at a base in northern California. Many of these planes were medical flights and oh, so many of the men couldn't get off the planes. I say men, hell, many of them were just boys barely older than me. A whole lot of them couldn't get off the plane so we would go on the plane, taking them sodas, helping some hold a cigarette because they were missing hands/arms/etc. We wrote postcards, we held their hands, we talked, we did whatever we could to make their journey a little easier.

When I left Guam the summer of 1967, I went to San Francisco. It was the so-called Summer of Love. While the other hippie chicks were distancing themselves from the young soldiers roaming the city, this hippie chick was spending many of her days and a lot of her nights at Letterman General Hosptial with young boys who had stumbled into becoming men. They were changed. Some had limbs missing, some with wounds you couldn't see, but you knew by looking at them, they were forever changed. I wrote postcards home to mothers, wives, girlfriends. I held hands with young women who came to see their loved ones and found boys/men they didn't know anymore or didn't recognize. So many tears, it wasn't just the young returning soldiers that were wounded, so were the families.

My father was never accused of being a wise man. He was a career military man doing his job. I am 61 years old now, and I think how shallow I must have appeared to my father. He served as a tailgunner in the Navy during WWII. He served with the Army/Air Force and when that split up, he went Air Force. He served during Korea and then again the Viet Nam conflict. I never realized what his 30 years of service really meant til I got much older. And I realized at a much older age that his punishment for this shallow, self-absorbed teenage girl affected me profoundly. His wisdom of taking these military brats and showing them what was happening....well how can I say it? It was and still is the most important thing I have ever done. My few hours spent in the middle of the night on a tiny island on the other side of the world shaped me, molded me, and made me realize how expensive my free lifestyle was. The time I spent in the hospital wards at Letterman General was humbling. These young boys made such huge sacrifices, and even their families sacrificed.

I hold these things close in my heart, and can still in a moment's thought, think of a face, a shared laugh, a letter written, and I can weep. It never goes away. My heart will always be tender from that time invested in boys/young men. I was just a girl, but I'm an old cowgirl now and I can honestly say that my life was forever colored by those experiences heaped on me by an honest to goodness military man, my father.

Viet Nam -- I can't even say the words without my heart twisting a bit.

Angie Caldwell

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  1. Angie, I think that is a VERY important story of the times. Humans aren't born with the natural ability to understand the depths of war, & unfortunately if we insist on carrying on these wars we all must undersand the sacrifice completely & make the commitment accordingly. I think too often wars become numbers, not people, & for a young person to understand people, commitment, & loss before twenty was better than a college education. Your Dad was indeed a wise man, he learned that lesson young too, & knew it wouldn't break you, but make you stronger. It was probably one of his biggest gifts to you. I learned it too at a young age being associated with the Navy in my early years, but didn't have the lesson of Nam as close up as you. I did however learn the scarifices of the military, & their families, that are made for the greater good of their country everyday....down to a child without a father to guide them for months or even a year at a time.

  2. From Facebook:

    Jan Hoffman
    ‎"Ya done good", Angie! Very touching story!
    Thanks for sharing a piece of you!

    CJ Heck
    Angie's a wonderful writer and I agree, she did a good job, Jan.

  3. From Facebook:

    Richard Schwartz
    I met a fellow Vietnam vet some years ago. He had lost a leg in the war. He told me that one of the things that kept him sane while being in combat was the memory that the company he worked for had parked the mining truck he drove before he became a soldier and they told him no one else would drive that truck until he came home.

    After he lost his leg he knew he wouldn't be able to drive the truck. He didn't know how he would make a living and he worried that people wouldn't think of him as a “normal” person anymore.

    He told me that the people he met during his recovery treated him like a “normal” person. Being treated in that manner greatly enhanced his emotional recovery.

    Thanks to all the Angies, past and present, who are helping our wounded vets recover.


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