REMEMBERING MY VIETNAM HUSBAND
By Kat Stickroth
My husband Richard was a Vietnam veteran, and retired with 25 years of military service. He was deployed twice to that Asian battlefield. Laughing, he’d say, “When I saw they were going to send me a third time, I left the Army and joined the Navy. They sent me back over anyway, on the Tolovana.”
Those were rare times when he found humor about anything in his Vietnam experience. He held those stories close, but occasionally he revealed different horrific experiences that to me were beyond comprehension. At first I reacted with more questions or tears, and he would close up again. He didn’t want his stories to hurt me.
So I learned to be silent and simply listen with a poker face. Upon finishing, we’d sit quietly. Then I’d reach and hold his hand, saying, “I’m so glad you made it home alive and that you are with me.”
In just a few moments he would step outside and sit on the porch, smoking a cigarette with our dog Brownie at his side. As I watched Richard through the window, I wanted to go put my arms around him and just hold him.
But something inside said to leave him alone, give him his time and space.
All I knew to do was honor the unseen sacred places of his heart by creating a home of peace, of safety for his mind and emotions, with little stress to trigger him. He never asked for anything, so it was a challenge to meet his needs.
He was diagnosed with a cancer defined as a presumptive disease from Agent Orange exposure. I can only describe that year as a living hell of keeping him alive, battling the V. A., the medical system, and the side effects of chemo.
A few days before he slipped into unconsciousness, he called me to his side.
“You don’t talk much anymore,” he whispered.
“Anytime I begin to open my mouth, I choke up, and I don’t want to upset you.”
He reached out his arm for me to lay next to him, and I wept in the quietness of our friendship.
I only have one question for you,” I finally sighed.
“Do you know you were loved?”
He chuckled, “Oh, yes!”
My veteran is buried at Willamette National Cemetery. He has an awesome view of Mt. Hood. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, what he meant to me and what he did for our country.
God, how he loved America.
So on this Veterans Day 2015, I thank all our veterans with a salute, then a warm hug.
I’m so glad you made it home.
Originally published November 11, 2015 in the La Grande Observer newspaper. Reprinted with permission.