On this Veterans Day, I honor my late father, Anthony DeLuca, who served with the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War.

My dad was in his late teens when he was drafted to go to Vietnam. He had no military experience, but like so many young men of the era, would earn it serving their country.

I don't remember my father talking a whole lot about his time in Vietnam when I was a kid. I just remember seeing photos of him in uniform for his formal Army portrait or in fatigues on a foreign land. I didn't start inquiring about his service until I was a bit older, and we'd watch movies like Platoon and Apocalypse Now.

But it was in 1994 when Forrest Gump was released and the Vietnam War was featured prominently. There was something about the humanity of those scenes of the war that were both haunting yet realistic in a way I'd never noticed before. I began asking my dad if that's what it was like to be in battle. To watch your military brothers get injured or lose their lives right in front of your eyes. That's when I started to understand the chops my very young father, sent to due a duty for the United States, must have had, and how brave he must have had to be in the face of danger like that.

Just a few years ago, we visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. It wasn't the first time I'd been there with my dad, but it was a time I noticed the kind of toll being drafted took on him. So many families were there visiting names on a wall. Tracing them onto paper or leaving flowers. For some, that was the ONLY place they had to mourn the sons, husbands, fathers, relatives they had lost. And that's when I realized my father's name was NOT on that wall...he was standing beside me. I had him WITH ME. But the reality that his name could so easily have been there was sobering.

Heather DeLuca
Heather DeLuca

My dad received a Purple Heart for his time in Vietnam, for helping to bring injured members of his platoon to safety, much like Forrest Gump. He was himself injured and honorably discharged. It wasn't until he retired that we had deep conversations about the psychological effects he suffered. How, even though he never really talked about Vietnam, it was always with him. How could it NOT be?

It's painful for me to think about my dad over there, sleep deprived, scared, with no idea what could happen next.

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What saddens me most was how he told me he was treated when he came back. How he was warned to change into sweats the minute he landed on U.S. soil because he could be targeted by protesters. He had such a hard time finding a job after his discharge because local businesses just wouldn't hire a Vietnam veteran. He eventually just stopped putting this military service on his job applications. And there was no 'welcome home' parade for those vets. But I think it steeled him. He wasn't one more dramatic emotions (and I was an emotional child, lol) or dwelling, because he'd seen things and came back with his wits enough about him to live his life.

My dad passed away in September 2020. It's still so hard to talk about him in the past tense. Veterans Day is also another painful reminder that I can't thank him personally for his service, but I'm so grateful he chose to share with me all he did. I have so much respect for him and all service men and women. So, if you've served our country, I thank YOU in his honor.

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