Army green.

My Superheroes Wore Green

By Maria Maldonado

Maybe it was Batman, who was from a place called Gotham City, wore a mask to hide his identity, and dressed in tights and a cape. Or perhaps it was, Superman – “the Man of Steel,” whose home was Metropolis. You know – the one who was able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, (so they said).

Well, my superheroes didn’t wear a mask or tights. Nor did they come from a place called Metropolis. My superheroes wore green, were established in Vietnam and Korea, and their names are (were) Jimmie, John, and John Mack Jr. – my two brothers, and my father.

I come from a large family: Six brothers and three sisters. My mom raised us with the help of our older siblings. My family has always been very close, and growing up in the sixties wasn’t easy. I looked up to my older brothers and sisters for guidance – as a matter of a fact, my oldest brother, Jimmie, was my father figure, and to this day I still call him “father.”

Although we didn’t have much growing up, I have many fond memories of how our family would celebrate holidays together, and how our brothers would take my sisters, Linda, Lisa, and me trick-or-treating, and how the younger kids would watch the older ones run around our back yard, chasing down the chickens we had to prepare for dinner.

On the weekend of July 4, 2014, my sister Linda and I decided to finally look inside our dad’s old Army trunk. In the trunk, our mom had meticulously kept many things from when we were growing up – old Halloween costumes, brothers’ first haircuts, old report cards, and more. We even found a partial newspaper article from 1955. While searching further we found our brothers’ enlistment papers, along with other certificates from when they served in the military. I found my brother John’s and my father’s Army dog tags.

I understood the fun side of life, but what I didn’t understand was what I would see and hear on television about the war in Vietnam. I really didn’t understand why our family, especially my mom, was so sad when my brother Jimmie announced he was going to Vietnam – the war they say, “should not have happened.” I was too young to realize what the war was all about back then. All I knew was that my brother wasn’t home anymore, and a part of me was missing.

I was always so excited when he was able to call home. We didn’t have cell phones, and Skype, back then, so calls were few and far between. I was even more excited when Jimmie would send us gifts. One time he sent us Vietnamese dolls. I have the mother, and my sisters have the daughters. We still have those dolls on our shelves.

Sometimes I would ask my mom, “When is Bood coming home?” (That was my brother Jimmie’s nickname.) She would reply, “He’ll be back soon.” And then one day it came true. I was standing in the doorway of our house watching my mother sweep off the porch. She had her back turned toward the street, when our neighbor Ms. Della said, “Look behind you!” When my mom turned around, there stood my brother Jimmie with his duffel bag strapped on his shoulders.

What a joyous time it was for us to have him back home safely. He showed us pictures of where he had been, of friends, and of himself in his uniform. How proud I was of my brother. He told us -stories, some funny, some very sad. And he talked about his time of being a medic. He seemed a little different upon his return. Loud noises and people tiptoeing up on him would make him jump. But slowly he started to become his old self again.

Soon enough though, the celebration for Jimmie’s return would be replaced with heartache, because it was time for my brother John to go and serve in Vietnam. I was a little older now, and starting to understand more of what it meant to be in Vietnam. The fighting, and people losing their lives – it was all so frightening to me. The images that were being shown on television sometimes haunted my dreams, along with what a child could only imagine.

Sometimes my brother John would get weekends to come visit once he got back to the States. We had moved to another house, and every time he came home, we would walk downtown to a bakery. He would buy me my favorite cupcakes, the ones with a plastic clown stick in them.

The night he returned home for good, our mom cooked up a feast, fried okra, corn on the cob, chicken, etc. I was so happy to have my family all together once again. But one person seemed to be missing – our father. Although he still lived in the area, I didn’t know much about him. He had left the family when I was much younger, so whatever I heard was always negative.

What I saw and heard was a father who drank a lot and fought with my mother and brothers. As far as him serving in the military, I don’t remember where I heard it from, but for so many years I was under the impression that he was kicked out of the service.

Well, that doesn’t sound very heroic.

But you know what? That would all change, because on the weekend of July 4, 2014, my sister Linda and I decided to finally look inside our dad’s old Army trunk. In the trunk, our mom had meticulously kept many things from when we were growing up – old Halloween costumes, brothers’ first haircuts, old report cards, and more. We even found a partial newspaper article from 1955.

My eyes filled with tears, and at that very moment I could see my dad standing right before me in his uniform. The memories I had of a father who drank, were instantly replaced by a father who fought bravely for our country.

While searching further we found our brothers’ enlistment papers, along with other certificates from when they served in the military. I found my brother John’s and my father’s Army dog tags. (My brother John told me that finding those was like finding gold.)

But then I saw a folded piece of paper, and decided to read it. It was our father’s Army enlistment paper. Most importantly, in the “discharge” area of the form, it read “Honorable.” We also found a letter that our father had received from President Truman.

My eyes filled with tears, and at that very moment I could see my dad standing right before me in his uniform.

The memories I had of a father who drank, were instantly replaced by a father who fought bravely for our country.

So there you have it. My superheroes can’t leap tall buildings, and don’t wear masks, but to me, they are still invincible. I praise and honor them, along with the countless men and women who once served, and who were willing to risk their lives for our country.

And for those of you who may have an old Army trunk in your attic, look inside it – you, too, may find your own superhero.

 

Maria MaldonadoMaria Maldonado works as a pre-school teacher, and is attending college to become a therapist – with the goal of helping veterans and their family members.