Of Flags and Fathers

I’m at the beach this week for one final taste of summer. I rarely find make the time for pure leisure reading – opting instead to catch-up on work-related reading, of which there is always ample. But in this final week of vacation, I wanted to remain off-the-grid as much as possible and once here decided I’d mix in some pure leisure reading to solidify this push . I’d only brought work-related reading with me, but found several books on the shelves in the house.  I typically read several books at once and rarely finish any of them so I pulled River : One Man’s Journey Down the Colorado, Source to Sea and Flags of Our Fathers off the shelf and began both. As is likely obvious – I have a hard time making time for fiction.

I’ve always been attacted to the travel and adventure genre and am currently about half-way through Touch the Dragon: A Thai JournalRiver : One Man’s Journey Down the Colorado, Source to Sea fits squarely in this style.  A good read – but slower than I’d prefer and perhaps a better read for a hiking or camping trip than a week at the beach.

Many in the house had previously read Flags of Our Fathers and strongly recommended it. Having lost my own father  – a veteran of two hot wars and one cold one – earlier this year, the experiences and perceptions of James Bradley are eerily similar to my own. My father never really spoke about his time in Vietnam or in other assignments and I realize there are vast swaths of his life that I don’t know. I have baseball games and family road trips, but I have only rare glimpses into the other side of his life.

I was reminded how grateful I was for the soldiers who came to his viewing, and later funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.  They shared stories and antidotes. The side of his life I had never seen. I thought of the day he died in the hospital – like “Doc” Bradley- and the many stories that died with him. Reading Flags of Our Fathers left me craving to know about these large voids. My father had received a variety of citations and medals – including a bronze stars, a bronze star with valor, and the purple heart – but I never knew the experiences behind them.  Not until after his death did I really know about the bronze stars nor that the purple heart and the bronze star with valor derived from the same event.

My father was a young lieutenant in Vietnam – in charge of even younger men.  Boys really. He lost one of these young men and while he never talked about it and after reading Flags of Our Fathers I wonder if it is the reason he never talked about it. Like Doc Bradley – my father never had the appetite to return to Vietnam.

The glimpses I did get came from adjacent experiences.  For example, he always had a profound respect for the flag – a respect he taught me through example. Six men raised a flag on Iwo Jima. While my dad wasn’t even a year-old yet, he would later learn through personal experience what that flag raising stood for. As I read Flags of Our Fathers I learned more about my own father and the experiences he never talked about.