The Viet Vet
This is a photo of my dad holding a sword he earned for flying 600 missions in the Vietnam War. This article was published in the Michigan Buyer’s Guide on Monday, April 27, 1981. The caption to the right of the photo summarizes the emotional feel of the article well:
Vietnam vet Cobra pilot Jeff Hayes earned his Air Cavalry silver sword by flying over 600 missions during his year tour of duty. Hayes most remembers the sight of 11 such swords and reversed black cavalry boots lined up at the front of the base chapel in honor of 11 of Hayes’ friends who dropped out of the sky like stones after a tragic air explosion. Hayes watched them fall. “You go through that once or twice a week and say ‘Well, let’s go down to the officer’s club and get drunk.’ And then you go back out the next day and start all over.
I remember discovering this sword in my parents’ bedroom as a kid, probably before I was even 10 years old, and marveling at its beauty. It is simply breathtaking; no photo can do it justice. I also remember asking about its origin and the only answer my dad ever gave was “I got it for flying missions in Vietnam.” He didn’t talk about the war much more than that, ever.
It wasn’t until our family went through my dad’s things after he died that we dug up this article; that was the first time I saw this (though I’d heard mentions of it from family members growing up). And it has yet to be any less impactful each time I re-visit it.
It is impossible to comprehend what it must have been like to see what he saw, what any soldier sees, in war. I can only be glad I do not have to experience those same horrors first-hand.
Yes, it is strange discovering so much about your loved ones after they die than while they were alive. Yet, I can now be even more thankful for having such a terrific father, knowing all these things he never shared — whether he couldn’t or didn’t — and that his focus was on giving his family a normal, good life.