Dad In The Army

My parents were already dating when my father got his draft notice. There was a war in Vietnam, and he absolutely did not want to go. He tried proposing to my mom so he could say he had to stay home and support his family. She told him emphatically that she wasn't ready to get married. She did, however, offer to drive him to the Army Medical Center for his appointment.

(What a lady.)

Instead, my father walked all the way up the hill to Tripler to try and "trigger" his heart murmur so that he could be disqualified for medical reasons. A few months later, my mother received this photograph in the mail:

Hero?
"It's THIS what America is depending upon for Freedom!"

It is just one of dozens of hilarious and charming photos he would send to her while in the service. Most of them captioned on the back, they offer the only glimpse of my dad before my parents' wedding.

Stationed in Korea as a cryptographer, my dad never saw any "action." He spent all his time in a little box, generously referred to as a "hut" and decoded all sorts of communications. Happy to find an alternative to combat, my dad worked hard at his job. His skills and his work ethic did not go unnoticed, and he was asked to consider a career in the military. He thought about it for as long as it took him to take the following picture:

my dad is hilarious
"This is what happens to anyone who asks me to re-up in the Army!"

My dad hated the Army. He almost never talked about his time there, except to complain about "all that marching." But still, it's this time of his, the only real time he ever spent away from Hawai'i, that is the best evidence I have of my father as a young man. He adored my mom; that much is certain. Over and over again he assures her of this simple and long lasting fact. But he was also a boy, just over twenty, and filled with the goof and wit that would be the SHEER AWESOMENESS of my childhood.

"Military Bearings"
Military Bearings. All right, who stole my rifle!"

Even his biggest complaint about the army (next to the marching) was captured in probably my favortiest photo of my father ever. He hated military food, with all of its potatoes and its miserable dearth of rice.

UGH
"Rice paddies. With all these rice paddies, they STILL give us potatoes! UGH!"

He was a nut. A bored, homesick nut, sending his girlfriend pictures of himself so that she wouldn't forget him while he was gone. Quiet and shy, it took months of steady dating before my father worked up the courage to even hold my mother's hand. After that, the "I love yous" flowed sparsely, and kind of haphazardly. My mom confessed once that she wasn't totally sure about my dad because he seemed, well, like a weirdo. But he charmed her, she said, making her laugh and miss him even though she was having a great time still being single.

Breakfast of Champions
"Having breakfast as usual. Beer a'la carte!"

Shortly after my dad got out of the military, my mom and dad got married. I'd like to think that they would have gotten married whether or not my dad ever got drafted, but I also think that being forced to see the world was good for my dad, even if he never left Hawai'i again.

Dad in Korea
"This is of the residential houses over here.
These are the nice ones. Boy the living conditions over here are poor."

I also think it was good for my mom, getting to know the man who would become the love of her life with a little bit of separation between them. (Okay, so a whole LOT of separation.) It also didn't hurt that my dad's Army buddies were, like, totally not even close to as good looking as he was. (You leave me my biases, damn you.)

"The four drunken horsemen"
"The four drunken horsemen"

And it also didn't hurt that my dad played the right blend of sex appeal and self deprecation. On the back of one photo he writes "Isn't he SEXY?" and then sends one just a bit later, calling out what would eventually become his impressively enormous Santa belly.

(Come on, man. That shit if FUNNY.)

"Fat City"
"Me, Haskell and Garlasay posing for Playboy Magazine honey.
The title of this picture is Fat City. See how fat I'm getting honey
but I love you so it shouldn't matter how fat I get. Right? HAHA. Love, Mac"

And no, it didn't matter to her how fat he got. My mom loved him, and genuinely seemed happy just to be near him. They got married and lived about as happily ever after as anyone could live, given the circumstances.

And my dad almost never ate potatoes again.

I think it's kind of cool to look at these old photos (you can check out more on my flickr page) and see the evolution of my parent's courtship. I mean, I know I'm getting the PG version of it, on top of looking at it through the lens of a daughter's idealization, but still. I look at these pictures of my dad leaving his home as a boy, and watch over the course of a few years as the man who raised me begins to emerge. I see his humor. His love. And, of course, his ever present guitar.

first love
"Still trying to play this junk."

After the Army, my dad came home and got a government job, this time drawing maps for the city. He was good at that job, too, and worked there until his illness forced him to retire. It wasn't the most exciting thing he ever did, but it was steady and it let him be home with his family. Which was, you know, all he wanted to do in the first place. I'd like to think that a stint in the military helped him deal with the inevitable monotony of that stability.

And you can't tell me that after working for a couple years in a glorified shoe box, that coming home to some boring office job didn't seem like kind of a luxury.

Dad in the Army
Honey, here I am at work. We have a radio and a teletype in these "huts."
It's pretty comfortable inside. I love you, Mac. "



(I love you, Dad. Wish you were here. But I'm glad, at least, that I have these things to remember you by.)


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Comments

Queen said:

So cool. I pay my highest tributes to them.

John Wiswell said:

What a lovely tribute! Not only to your dad, for in her mentions, to the character of your mother as well. Thank you so much for sharing.

celeste said:

Thank you, John! When I was younger I totally thought my mom was a nut for "making" my dad have to join the Army by turning down his proposal. But of course once I got a little older, I realized how young they were and yeah that totally made sense. I'm glad they got married and all, but I'm happy that they took their time with it.

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