There is a Bridge - A Veteran's Story

By
Real Estate Agent with Utah Homes 9334967-SA00

There is a bridge from Memphis to Vietnam- and only I could see it.


BridgeBoyThe Move: Life as a military child involved being uprooted at a moment's notice. One day you're in California; a couple weeks later it’s Memphis, Tennessee. Though I'd become used to moving, this time was different. My father was receiving training that would take him out of town for weeks or months at a time. Many of my friends’ fathers were already in Vietnam; I knew, at some point, he'd be with them.

 

This made the move that much more difficult. I have to admit- my first few weeks in town had been a blur. I can't say I paid attention to much of anything. One day, when I was supposed to be at recess, I was standing in the hallways. One of the teachers confronted me- demanding, "What's with you? Got your head in the clouds?" To this, my teacher popped out of the classroom, looked at the teacher and said, "Yes, he does. There you are Charles, I've got a special assignment for you."

 

The Project: She walked me into the room, toward the back- where she kept the butcher paper which she dispensed off of a large roll. "See this wall? It's the only blank spot I've got. We're going to be studying weather systems next week and I need an artist to draw the clouds."

 

She showed me a graphic and said, “Think you can draw this?” I told her that I didn’t know if I was capable. She said, “Well- today you’ve got a challenge then. You’re my cloud expert… and I’m going to help you make something spectacular.”

 

For the next five days I spent the entire recess using pastel chalk to draw the cloud formations. I began with the low level nimbostratus and stratocumulus… graduating to the altocumulus and altostratus. By the end of the week I was on tiptoe, finishing with the cirrus and cirrostratus. My crowning achievement was the cumulonimbus- the large thunder cloud; my teacher said I’d managed to take something fearful and turn it into a thing of beauty. I had to admit; I’d really surprised myself.

 

clouds

 

The Guest: Toward the end of the day I was treated to a surprise. The teacher was starting to unveil my masterpiece. Just as she was about to do so, everyone looked to the doorway. It was my father, dressed in his Air Force uniform- he entered the classroom saying, “I’ve come to look at my son’s clouds.” You’d have thought the President of the United States entered the room- my classmates were awestruck.

 

I was able to explain the different clouds, their altitudes and what they were associated with. My father smiled and when the teacher asked if there were any questions, someone asked my dad, “are you a soldier?” He said that he was. When someone asked if he was going to war, he said, “very soon.”

My teacher told me this day had been her favorite in all of teaching. She gave me a hug and searched her purse for a tissue. I decided she was about as nice a person as I’d ever met.

 

Separation:  The day may father went to war the sky was clear. I asked what he’d be doing in Vietnam and if people would be shooting at him. He told me he was going to be flying so high that it would be difficult. He got on his knee and whispered, “I’ve got you to send me some clouds. I’ll fly so high above them that no one will see me.” I’d hoped for storm clouds. I’d heard pilots say that while everyone was being pelted by rain they’d be amid nothing but blue skies and a pillow below them.

 

The following days dragged. I felt powerless- I couldn’t send a cloud but then I remembered that I could draw them. I’d lie on the back lawn and stare at the clouds- I concentrated to see if they seemed to move any quicker. This was going to be a very long year.

 

VNMempisThe Map: One day I was looking through my father’s collection of National Geographic magazines. I found a world map and discovered how far away Vietnam was. I folded the map at his city, Phan Rang and brought it over until it was next to Memphis. I taped this new map together and cut it so that it was small enough to fit in my pocket. I later drew a bridge.

In my mind I could see a bridge that connected these two cities. Whenever we drove near the Mississippi River I’d imagine my father on the other side; I imagined that he had binoculars and could see me. I’d wave and he’d wave back. When the clouds were high I assumed we were looking at the same clouds. When the clouds rolled in the days passed more quickly.

 

Over the years I’ve built many bridges… each one viewable only to me. Bridges to San Antonio and Charleston… Phoenix and Sacramento… Denver and Alpine... in my mind these bridges have spanned as far as South America and as near as one town away.

 

There is a bridge from Memphis to Vietnam. And one day my father crossed it.

 


 

I originally posted this to ActiveRain years ago. My daughter and nephew later filmed it using several family members in a single afternoon. It was a good way to document the back story of thousands of families who put their lives on hold to serve our country.

 

 

Comments (49)

Chuck Willman UtahHomes.me
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Althea Kippes, Esq. There's that song that says "I look at clouds from both sides now." I think of that also.

James Dray Yes. I'm super proud. So many were not in favor of that war and the many wars that follow. Still, to know we have people who willingly serve warms me.

Rob Arnold It's very much a family thing. Living on base during the Vietnam war was odd. We were town of moms and kids. So many fathers were deployed. I have a sister who has served- she and the many women who serve also leave family behind,

Nov 15, 2015 01:52 AM
Chuck Willman UtahHomes.me
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Liz and Bill Spear this personal stuff. I'm just getting around to document it- and my AR feed shows it. I'm wondering if a few people are asking, "does this guy ever talk real estate?"

Andrew Mooers In my case we were fortunate. So many of my school mates were not so fortunate. Much respect and reverence to them.

Nov 15, 2015 01:55 AM
Chuck Willman UtahHomes.me
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Sheila Anderson I'm humbled by the praise. It's a small story- I'm touched to know that some have found it read-worthy.

Ed Silva I appreciate that. I'm glad my daughter and nephew chose to capture it.

Michael Setunsky This is something we share with many thousands who understand what it's like to miss someone deeply while honoring the responsibility they have accepted.

Nov 15, 2015 01:58 AM
Chuck Willman UtahHomes.me
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Richie Alan Naggar I agree 100%.

Nicole Doty - Gilbert Real Estate Expert My mom and dad wrote each other every day for his year away. I wrote volumes during that time as well. Knowing that there was a letter in our mailbox gave us tremendous relief. I don't know how our relationship would differ without this defining moment. 

Nov 15, 2015 02:05 AM
Chuck Willman UtahHomes.me
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Kat Palmiotti I'm in Arizona right now for a wedding. The person who played my father is my son-in-law. He was heading to dental school. Half way through he committed to the Air Force for a few years. In the film he wore my father's uniform. Now he has one of his own. I also have a sister who just retired. She piloted many missions in war zones. I have so much respect for them and I too become a bit emotional by seeing them in uniform.

Nov 15, 2015 02:10 AM
Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Chuck - that is a very heartwarming story.  It illustrates what entire military families give to our nation.

Nov 15, 2015 04:08 AM
Sam Shueh
(408) 425-1601 - San Jose, CA
mba, cdpe, reopro, pe

I went to a high school class reunion last year. I did not know US military dependends were all evacuated from Vietnam in the 60s. Many familes stayed in Bangkok and move to the next post often was in Europe. 

My nephew who justed transfered from DC to Hawaii. He is in South Pole doing his stunt .... Where next who knows?  He and his wife both are Airforce doctors doing the Mash thing.... It must be hard to grow up that way.....

 

Nov 15, 2015 05:20 AM
Sheila Anderson
Referral Group Incorporated - East Brunswick, NJ
The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133

Chuck you right beautifully and from a special place. Write a book.

Nov 15, 2015 05:28 AM
Gary L. Waters Broker Associate, Bucci Realty
Bucci Realty, Inc. - Melbourne, FL
Eighteen Years Experience in Brevard County

Cool story.  I never thought about how my son dealt with my twenty years in the Navy and being gone for long periods.

Nov 15, 2015 06:24 AM
Chuck Willman UtahHomes.me
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Mike Frazier We would drive over to Millington for groceries- small world.

Karen Fiddler, Broker/Owner It's hard at times but mostly awesome. For a military dependant, a mom or dad who serves seems like a superhero.

Kathy Streib Wow. Such a compliment- I had written this as a small memory. I'm moved that several people seem to have felt it worth their while.

Nov 16, 2015 09:45 AM
Chuck Willman UtahHomes.me
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Kevin B. Tolbert PA Team Keller Williams Realty of Port St Lucie I should probably point out my father made it back and is still with us.

Brigita McKelvie The entire family does participate- thus magnifying the anxiety but also the support system.

Nov 16, 2015 10:24 AM
Chuck Willman UtahHomes.me
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Bill Reddington I know the area, my sister-in-law lives there. I've had the good fortune to live in a few areas where the military has a bountiful presence. The support is so good.

Kathy Streib I'm honored and humbled to be a part of your selection- you put so much enegy into your list. 

Nov 16, 2015 10:28 AM
Chuck Willman UtahHomes.me
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Joanna Cohlan I concur. The Vietnam war was not popular. So many were drafted yet went and served. Many career soldiers who served did not agree with the premise of this war, and *still*, they served. It's hard for me to fathom what war would be, as I only experienced vicariously. 

Kristin Johnston, Waukesha Realtor 414-254-6647 I'm glad you found it. I was shocked by that myself.

Nov 16, 2015 10:34 AM
Chuck Willman UtahHomes.me
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Grant Schneider I was hoping to tell the story of the family at war- not to take away from those who serve but also to show that so many are invested.

Sam Shueh My son-in-law is a military doctor now. The family will have to stay very close to home for Christmas as all the doctors are on alert should there be a terrorist threat. We were hoping they could visit this year. 

Nov 16, 2015 10:37 AM
Chuck Willman UtahHomes.me
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Sheila Anderson I've written probably 1/4th of a potential book here on AR. I've thought of taking the several posts and fleshing them out more. I have no delusion that the book could sell- I do think it would be nice for the kids to have.

Gary L. Waters, Broker Owner, Waters Realty of Brevard, LLC Thank you for your service. I have a feeling that I may have a small understanding of how they felt. I'm sure they were a mix of proud and concerned.

Nov 16, 2015 10:40 AM
Sheila Anderson
Referral Group Incorporated - East Brunswick, NJ
The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133

Hello Chuck. I think a book you'd write would sell. I would buy it and I bet you would be surprised. Do it.

Nov 16, 2015 08:14 PM
Gayle Rich-Boxman Fishhawk Lake Real Estate
John L Scott Market Center - Birkenfeld, OR
"Your Local Expert!" 503-755-2905

Oh, my. True stories with inspirational messages are THE BEST in my book. Chuck, I am so very glad that this was captured in print AND in film for sharing with families who want to create their own bridges. 

Truly remarkable lesson in life. Thank God for your teacher (an angel) and all of the treasures that you have found along the way . 

Chuck, thank you! 

Nov 18, 2015 10:16 AM
Chuck Willman UtahHomes.me
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Gayle Rich-Boxman Fishhawk Lake Realtor (503)755-2905 You pointed out a key element. I had an outstanding teacher. This was an unusual circumstance; normally we lived on military basis. In Memphis my father worked out of the Air National Guard- where few active duty Air Force people were stationed. How she was not only able to take interest and arrange this was beyond me. Her empathy was off the charts.

Nov 18, 2015 11:08 AM
Gayle Rich-Boxman Fishhawk Lake Real Estate

She set a course for you, certainly, Chuck. This is why I think teachers are so underpaid! They form our futures. 

Nov 18, 2015 11:51 AM
Chuck Willman UtahHomes.me
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Sheila Anderson It will happen- I just don't know when. I have close to two dozen stories in some sort of shape. This story in particular would be make for a single chapter on a topic around which I have yet to flesh out certain elements. I have not yet written about two things: Elvis and Martin Luther King. I was friends with a person whose family had moved to Elvis to help broker a deal during the trash strike- this brought Martin Luther King to town. The other element is some interactions with Elvis's family.

Nov 18, 2015 11:14 AM
Sharon Tara
Sharon Tara Transformations - Portsmouth, NH
New Hampshire Home Stager

How beautiful!  And touching....got me very emotional!  I hope you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving!

Nov 26, 2015 08:42 AM