February reminds me of love, with Valentine’s Day just two weeks away. Of course, for me, it’s a season to celebrate the unbreakable, beautiful bonds I’ve built with those whom I’ve loved and admired deeply over the course of my life. As I’m now in my seventh decade, this group increasingly includes friends and family who are no longer living, including my soulmate and late husband Larry.
This year, with news that America’s longest war – the conflict in Afghanistan – may at long last be coming to an end, wives, parents, brothers, sisters and friends may be rejoicing at the prospect that thousands of soldiers will likely soon be heading home to safety. For others, the news may be a bittersweet reminder of the price that too often comes with military service.
The photo below depicts a C-17 transport filled with American soldiers deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. I can’t help but wonder, how many of those patriots returned home to their loved ones? How many were lost? How many husband, wives and children lost their parents, sweethearts and life-long friends to this prolonged war?
The tragedy of war has affected my own life, and my daughter Laura’s life, as it has for so many with friends and family serving in Afghanistan. My husband, 1st Lt. James L. Hull, did not return from the Vietnam War after his deployment. His plane was shot down in Laos on February 19, 1971. My doctor at The Menninger Clinic, where I was hospitalized for clinical depression, told me Larry had died, five days after Valentine’s Day.
Years later, as I matured and my health improved, I was finally able to reflect on my husband, Larry’s, death and the many questions I carried with me about the Vietnam War. I remember seeing the premiere of the blockbuster movie “Platoon,” which helped me come to terms with those feelings. Platoon debuted in 1986, fifteen years after Larry’s death, and graphically depicted the harsh realities of war in South Vietnam. When the movie ended, tears poured down my cheeks uncontrollably. Witnessing the cinematic depiction of this tragic war was a highly emotional experience for me, and a testament to the power of storytelling.
My healing ever since then has continued. I began to seek out stories about the Vietnam War from those native to the country. After I moved to Texas, I began visiting a shop operated by a family who immigrated to our nation from Vietnam following the war. They have taught me many things about the harsh realities of living in Vietnam throughout the war.
Cathy, the mother of this family, has told me stories about the Vietnam War and is an open and honest communicator. After getting to know Cathy, I shared my story of Larry’s death in the war and asked her what that time was like for her and her family. She told me her uncle was a soldier for the South Vietnamese army. He was captured, sent to jail, and her family’s home was confiscated. Cathy told me about living on the street, under a bridge; an unbearable life for a young girl trying to survive in a war-torn region.
Her strength and determination have always impressed me. Until I met Cathy and her family, my experiences about the Vietnam War were about my personal experiences of losing Larry and my brother’s service as a Lt. J.G in the Navy.
My friendship with this family has transformed my perspective about how families on both sides of war are forever changed. Families in Afghanistan, who have lived through decades of unrest, are just like Cathy and her family growing up in war-torn Vietnam. Many Afghan people are hoping against hope that their lives can once again return to normalcy, just like the U.S. soldiers coming home.
As the U.S. war in Afghanistan heads toward its inevitable conclusion, 2019 will be a season of happiness for many, yet one of sorrow for others, whose loved ones experienced the ultimate sacrifice in defending our freedoms.
How has this war, or wars of the past, affected your life?
© Tyra Manning 2019