Silent Survivors of the Vietnam War

Silent Survivors of the Vietnam War

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

Silent Survivors of the Vietnam War

Learn to let go. That is the only key to happiness.


1962. I remember when I first realized I loved Bill. It was Army/NavyWeekend. I arrived in Annapolis, and Bill wasn’t at the station to meet me, so I waited. I watched him approach, and I felt something connecting us as he drew near.

1964. He graduated in June, and we married the very next week.

1965. The Vieques cruise. I learned I was pregnant while he was gone.

1966. His first tour in Vietnam started in January. In March, Sarah was born.

1967. He returned in April.

1969. He left for Vietnam again in June. On the day he left, I learned that I was pregnant again.

1970. In January, our daughter Mitty was born. He was still in Vietnam. The next morning, two men in uniform got off the elevator and spoke to my aunt. I could see them from my hospital bed. I knew who they were. My aunt became upset, and a nurse hurried into my room and took the baby away. I waited. Every military wife dreads the day two uniformed men and a priest come to the door. My Bill was gone.

1994. I decided to pursue a doctorate in psychology. As a student, while reading literature on post-traumatic stress disorder, I found little research concerning the wives of Vietnam veterans. As a widow of that war, I wondered about the other women, and I thought more about myself and my own responses. Dormant feelings were roused, and my stoicism crumbled.

Bill had been away for more than half of our five-year marriage. I was angry with him for getting himself killed, and, instead of grieving, I denied how much his death had affected me. When he died, I was only twenty-seven years old, too young to be a widow. I remarried twice, but there was a Bill-shaped hole that no one could fill. Competing with a dead man must have been difficult for my ex-husbands.

Memorial Day weekend. My two grown daughters and I went to Washington, D.C., to visit the Vietnam Memorial. Their father’s name is on that wall. The purpose of our trip was to acquaint them with the man they had never known.

We visited his school, the base of his first duty assignment and the first apartment we lived in after our marriage. One of Bill’s closest friends was the base commander at Quantico Marine Corps Base, and we were able to visit the base quarters that had been our last home together. The girls and I heard many stories about their dad. After nearly twenty-five years, I finally was able and willing to tell them about their father and answer their questions.

Before we left for the return trip home, we took one last walk to the wall. Sarah, who had been three when her father died and not allowed to attend the funeral, told me that she felt she had finally been allowed to honor his life.

Mitty, who had been born the day before her father’s death, reached out and touched his name. In the softest voice, she said, “This isn’t just a name anymore. This is my daddy.”

The sense of loss has never gone away, but it has blended into the fabric of my life, creating a complicated pattern of bereavement, courage, strength and joy. I took many pictures while we were in Washington. My favorite is a photograph of Bill’s panel. You can see his name and my reflection, joined together on the shining surface.

Sally B. Griffis

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