The Only Time I Saw Him Cry

by James Glaser

When I was a kid, up in the attic there were two green uniforms with some ribbons on them. One was my Dad's and the other was Uncle Bob's. Both were Marines in World War Two. Later on I learned that my Dad had stayed in the reserves and went to Korea too.

When l was real little, my friend and I would sneak up and look at these uniforms and go out and play "War." We would ask my dad about the war and he would just put us off.

When I was a senior in high school I was telling my dad that I was going in the service. He said, "Well, listen to me. Go in the Air Force where you will get something out of your training that you can use."

Being one really brilliant teenager, I knew that he was steering me wrong, so I went down and joined the Marines like Dad and Uncle Bob. Back then there were not all those cool ads on TV where the guy fights the "Fire Dragon" with the sword and then turns into the Marine in Dress Blues. I did learn the Marine Corp Hymn in grade school and everyone knew that Marines were tough as all get out. How could a teenager resist?

When I got home I told my Dad what I did. He didn't get mad or even raise his voice. He just said "OK" and walked away.

After about a year in the Corps I came home for a thirty-day leave before going to Vietnam. My Dad and Uncle Bob took me out for dinner, just the three of us, a couple days before I left. I could tell that both of them wanted to say something, but they just couldn't get it out. They kind of fell in to my mood as I was-real "Gung Ho" and thought that I could whip the world and that Vietnam would be a "piece of cake."

They laughed at my jokes and told me some real good ones from when they were in. Marines have a real sick sense of humor and I thought that we had a good time. My Dad was talking to me like a man for the first time in my life.

Two days later my Mom kissed me good by at our house and just my Dad took me to the airport. My Mom cried, but she cried when I went to Boot Camp, so I didn't think much about it. It does embarrass you, though, and I was glad to get out of there.

We got my sea bag checked in and we still had a hour to kill. We walked around not saying much. I was pumped and just wanted to go. My Dad was talking about lots of things that I did as a kid. Stuff that I had totally forgotten about, and I couldn't think of why he was on these subjects.

I was waiting for the "Well, keep your head down" and a good hand shake.

After all, we were two Marines and that was the proper way to part. When they called my flight my Dad broke right down and cried. He was trying so hard not to, his whole body was shaking, I didn't know what to do. All he could say was "I should have told you."

I was kind of a mess by then too as I had never seen my Dad cry. Marines don't cry. All I could do was give him a hug and turn and leave.

I was on the plane and I couldn't figure out my Dad breaking down like that.

Vietnam taught me why.

May 23, 2001

Originally appeared on
© 2001

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