In the spring of 1967, the woman who would become my mother went out to check the mail. She was an 18 year old newlywed. Among the cards and bills was a letter addressed to her new husband from the President of the United States. She probably knew exactly what it was the moment she saw it but she opened and read it anyway. “You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States and to report…”
I can only imagine the feelings that must have assaulted her, alone in their small apartment as she read and re-read the orders. But her reaction is a family legend—she hid the letter!
Who knows what happened over the next several weeks. Perhaps Mom asked around about what happens if someone doesn’t show up for induction. Maybe she talked about the draft notice with someone she trusted and got some good advice. Maybe she just looked at Dad across the dinner table one evening and decided this was something they should face together. However it came about, she showed Dad the letter just before his report date.
The good news was that the US military did not know that they were married. More than that, they were married and expecting their first child! Still there was very little time left to document these things.
The small town they lived in was a close-knit community and the family doctor was most accommodating in rendering the necessary examinations and providing the required documentation on short notice. With paperwork in hand, my father presented the US government with the latest developments in his life and was reclassified as a husband and father of one. He would not be taking a trip to Vietnam after all.
It is now the spring of 2014. I am more than twice as old as my father was when my mother hid his draft notice. Vietnam; the country once looked upon with so much dread and fear in my family is now the object of wonder and fascination. No longer are our men sent to kill and die against their will. Now a WanderTour of women prepare to visit and meet their Vietnamese sisters and learn to cook Vietnamese dishes, batik textiles, learn about silk making, work in a rice field, and experience the ancient and artistic culture of Vietnam in peace and friendship. I am going with them. After anchoring my father firmly in the USA to keep him out of Vietnam, I can’t wait to go myself! A lot changes in 40 years… but not quite everything.
“I will not rest easy until you are back home” my mother says. “Stay safe, and I will miss you.” Her instinct to keep loved ones close and safe is as strong as ever. Which reminds me… Wheres my… “Mom, you haven’t seen my passport have you?”
(The photo was taken by my mother, Brenda Neff as my father, Craig Neff was dressing me for church. See what a happy child I was safe in their love!)