March 23, 2016
Tiny Sparks of Light

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EDITOR'S NOTE: A few weeks ago, I asked my Facebook friends to send me a story their father liked to tell. The one that follows, submitted by the appropriately named, Michal Story, touched me deeply and reveals a common humanity we all share, even during times of difficulty. I hope you enjoy it. If YOUR FATHER, like Michal's, had a favorite story he liked to tell, please consider sending it to me for possible publication on this blog.

"My father was a man of many secrets. Not by choice, but by temperament. He rarely spoke of his past. He'd come from a chaotic childhood and left home at 16 to join the Navy. He loved the camaraderie it afforded him and was proud of his service. He was what they called a 'lifer.'

I was a teenager in the 1960s when my father and I bonded through watching football and tuning up the car together on weekends. But it was between his tours of duty in Vietnam, when he invited me out onto our patio in the late Louisiana summer evenings, that I realized just how close we were. He'd sip scotch and smoke cigarettes while we listened to Hank Williams and Patsy Cline on the record player. Most of the time, we'd sing along with Hank and tell corny jokes. And sometimes, he'd comment on the heavy, warm humid air that reminded him of times in Vietnam. It was these times that I knew was in for a good story.

He spared me the horror he must have witnessed and would tell me stories of his friends and how they would pass the time. One particular story still strikes me.

I don't remember where, specifically, he was stationed, but it was on a border between North and South Vietnam. There was a rickety four-foot tall barbed-wire fence which separated the enemies and they could hear distant sporadic gunfire and explosions during the day. The fencing spanned a treeless, grassy field where each side could easily see the other's buildings. There was no movement between them during the day. My Dad's squadron's sole mission was to ensure that no one crossed. And no one ever attempted to cross from either side. It was an "easy tour" as he called it.

Late at night, and every night, a very different scene took place, however -- one my father said haunted him in a way that none of his other war experiences had. It would take place long after the gunfire and bombing had settled down to an almost peaceful calm.

My father and his brothers-in-arms would spot tiny sparks of periodic light emanating from the buildings across the field -- almost like a signal. The handful of American men on the night shift would approach the fence without hesitation, as if they were back home taking a leisurely stroll. As they approached, they'd see their counterparts, equally relaxed, approaching the fence. There they would meet and exchange brief greetings in whatever limited language each could understand -- making hand gestures, offering up cigarettes and, from the dim light of a match, show each other photographs of their families back home. Sometimes they would exchange odd wares unique to their respective cultures.

These men were no longer enemies in this nightly routine. They were just people managing to turn a blind eye to what divided them -- an American on one side, a Viet Cong on the other. No one knew when or how this ritual started. But it was repeated, nonetheless, by each new troop arrival. Was it from boredom? Curiosity? It didn't really seem to matter. Whatever the reason, it was a chance to be human again. The only danger seemed to be in caring."

One of my father's favorite stories

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at March 23, 2016 01:40 AM

Comments

wonderful story
love it
thanks michal and mitch

Posted by: Janice Wilson [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 23, 2016 10:26 AM

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