Images from a more innocent time

When my dad died earlier this year and I began going through his things, I found box after box of pics from his time in the Air Force during the Vietnam war.

I was particularly intrigued to see fire training pics from (now closed) Chanute AFB in Illinois.

He loved firefighting, and I wish he’d been able to do that during his entire military career, but things didn’t turn out that way, and he soon found himself instead picking off Viet Cong from a helicopter, going on dangerous, top secret missions and watching many of his friends get killed.

Still, even though those events caused him a lot of pain and led to what we now call PTSD, he never let that baggage slow him down. He just held his head up high and took life by the horns until the day he died.

His perseverance is inspirational to me. When he left the Air Force to pursue a career in firefighting that eventually led to his becoming a Fire Marshall, he was a raging alcoholic. He conquered that, though, quitting cold Turkey when my mom threatened to leave him. He chose my mother and I over alcohol.

I was probably two when that happened, so I don’t remember it. Never saw the man take a drink. He never slipped, as far as I know. And according to my mom, it wasn’t something he could’ve hidden, because he was a loud, belligerent drunk who loved to picked fights, even with officers on base.

It was always difficult for me to grasp that this peaceful, caring man I came to know carried so much weight on his shoulders. I don’t think I understood or appreciated it as a kid, and that’s good. Kids don’t need to know stuff like that. All I knew was that he was a hero and he’d seen some horrible stuff.

Even though the folks in these pics are endangering themselves by wearing asbestos suits and splashing around in hazardous PFAS chemicals, they didn’t know that. Nobody did.

The government likely knew long before anyone else, and they still won’t make it right with the people still suffering the aftereffects. Makes all of this, as well as my fond childhood memories of growing up near Wurtsmith AFB in Oscoda, MI, a little bittersweet, though.

PFAS. Agent orange. My dad was knee deep in both for decades, and I swam in the contaminated waters of Lake Huron and the AuSauble River, myself. Both of us have had weird, unexplainable medical issues.

Oscoda a beautiful place that the government has tainted. Sure, my dad sprayed the chemicals, because that’s what they were told to do. They were told it was safe. God bless all of them, and it’s appropriate to lay the blame at the feet of the federal government, and not soldiers, not firefighters–we can and should remain proud of those brave men and women, and their legacy.

Someday, I’d like to have some of the many, many reels of 8mm film my dad took developed and digitized. I mean, “chopper fires?” I need to see these.

I know I’m not special. Everybody’s dad dies, and we all have to deal with it.

I was fortunate to be blessed with a father I can be proud of, though, and that in itself means a lot to me and makes all of these documents and phots precious. To me, anyway. Miss you, dad. Every day.


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