Sometimes I start talking to my parents about family stories and the most amazing tales emerge. For instance, this last week, I mentioned that I needed new material for a Saturday Story and Dad said to Mom, “tell her about the time you thought I had been shot down over North Vietnam.” Mom said, “You know that story, right, Kristen?” I had never heard it.
First, let me give you a little background information. The wives and families of the B-52 crews were allowed to go over and stay near the bases from which the B-52s were launching their attacks on Hanoi and other points in North Vietnam. Mom and I went over twice to Thailand and once to Guam. We had just returned from Guam. It was almost Christmas and Mom was feeling low. She packed me up and we headed from Massachusetts over to her parent’s home in Western New York.
A few days later, we were watching the evening news when an announcement came on that a B-52 out of Guam had been shot down over North Vietnam. Later that night, the phone rang. It was a friend of my mom’s from the base in Massachusetts. She said that no matter what Mom heard on the news, my dad had not been on the plane that had been shot down; the serial number released did not match Dad’s. The next day, on the news, footage was shown of the wrecked plane. A body of a serviceman was draped over the wing and one lone survivor was blindfolded and being prodded by the Viet Cong with a bayonet. Then the newscaster said my father’s name. It was all my mom could do to hold onto the hope that her friend had been right.
Christmas came and Mom just couldn’t bring herself to get out of bed. The constant worry had literally made her sick. Mamie entertained me and told Mom not to worry about a thing. Mom got out of bed around one o’clock in the afternoon and decided to go over and visit Granny, my dad’s mom who lived about thirty minutes away. We stayed the night; Mom and Granny taking comfort in each other’s company. At four in the morning, the phone rang. It was Dad. He was safe. He never knew how the Viet Cong got his name or why they mistakenly released it to the Western press.
The worry continued, though. There were many planes shot down during the Conflict. All of the wives lived in constant fear that their husbands would not survive. They had to keep up a good face in front of their children, all the while dealing with their own anxieties. In every generation, I don’t think the military spouse gets enough credit for the load she (or he) carries.