There are several veterans in my family who are no longer with us. I am very sad that I did not take the time to properly express my gratitude when they were still alive. I remember them often and hope that they somehow lived their lives knowing how critical their military service was to the freedoms and liberties we continue to enjoy in this country.
One of these veterans was my first husband, Bob "Perk" Perkins. The Vietnam War was in full swing, and Bob left college to enlist like his father, Homer, had done. There was a high probability that he would have been drafted, so he decided to be proactive. Since he was not quite sure where he wanted to go with his career after college, it seemed right to enlist. He thought four years in the Air Force might help him choose a direction for his life, and he figured he would have a good chance of returning.
Bob spent his last year of service in Vietnam. This was during a time when our country had grown weary of the war, and it was not uncommon for young people to be disrespectful toward returning soldiers. There were certainly no parades or celebrations for these troops. They were pretty much on their own as they tried to make sense of things and put their lives back on track.
Like many other returning veterans, Bob didn't talk much about his experience in Vietnam. He downplayed it. As far as I knew, he had a fairly uneventful tour. As he transitioned back to college and normal life, Bob just tried to get through school in order to start his new career in parks and recreation.
I don't ever remember explicitly thanking Bob for his service. It didn't occur to me to do so at the time. We were just too busy struggling to make ends meet and get him through school. It also didn't occur to me that Bob's tour in Vietnam might have been a little more eventful than he led me to believe. It wasn't until years later that I began to wonder
Bob and I divorced a few years after he returned from Vietnam. I don't blame the war for that, but I do wish I had been a little better equipped to help him deal with the challenges of re-entry into civilian life.
Bob passed away in 2009 in a veterans hospital from a form of cancer that was linked to Agent Orange.
Even in a war that many Americans did not support, I know Bob was proud to serve his country, and I'm proud of his service. I'm not proud, however, that I forgot to tell him that.