I am posting this photograph again because telling his story helps me to feel closure. My step-father, which I am tired of saying, he essentially adopted me, raised me... My father (that's better) was a Vietnam War Hero who was, like many, shamed when he returned. He was spit on, and ridded himself of that uniform. He was drafted into the Vietnam War when he was 20 years old, and fought in Cu Chi for the 25th Infantry, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry: The Centaurs. He was there from 1968-69 and honorably discharged from the Army in 1974. The medals he earned solidify his honor: Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, Air Medal, ARCOM (Twice, With V), Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign, National Defense, CIB, Sharpshooter and Marksman. But, the story doesn't end there.
My father was humble, and had integrity that is unmatched to this day. He battled internal demons that I will never, ever understand, no matter how hard I attempt to. Except, he always cared. He always showed that he loved us, in ways only a battered soul could, "did you get your oil changed?" "those tires look rough" "did you eat today?".
He passed away when I was nineteen years old, and I wish that I had the mental ability to process this. He had been in hospice care for almost 10 months, but months before December, he was up, he was walking the dogs... I hate to say that I was in denial, but it's true. 19 years old. That number sticks with me. Six months shy of how old my father was when he was drafted into a war that he didn't understand; I am not sure even sure that our government or Congress understood. It has taken over three years for me to begin to come to terms with his passing. But, as long as I am alive, he will always be remembered. And, I hope that his memory lives on with my family.
Back to this photograph. My father, a war veteran, lived in the woods before he came to make our family complete, again. Paul came with the clothes on his back, and didn't receive help, benefits, or recognition until 30 years after his service. I have never seen a photograph of my father that my mother didn't take... that wasn't a snapshot of one of our memories. I reached out to his division, unit, and cavalry, because I found Paul's name on a website. I asked if I could finish the information, because it was missing some things about him. A few days ago, the historian shot back a long e-mail, including this photograph, which is clearly him from Vietnam, in front of the chopper that he probably earned his DFC in. He said the person that submitted the photograph only remembered Walsh, no first name. This photo was chosen as comparison, and there is no doubt in my mind... this photograph is him.
I feel like this helped to bring him home to us. I have always felt that his soul was still there, still overseas, with demons he had to carry with him. A close friend and coworker of mine told me that his father died fighting in Vietnam. I said to him, "My father passed away a few years ago, when the claws of Agent Orange made him succumb, albeit, peacefully in my mother's arms". He looked me in the eyes, without missing a beat, "Both of our fathers died in Vietnam, yours just took a little more time".
This, to me, was chilling, enlightening, and real. My heart bursts whenever I see this photograph, because, to me, Paul is a hero. The kind that is unsung, that you hear about occasionally; not often enough. I cannot thank the historian (Dale Dow) enough, for keeping this relic, and continuing to research, and help families of Vietnam Veterans. I love you, Paul. Forever, always. The lessons you taught me will stay in my mind eternally. I wish I did more for you when I had the chance. Paul Francis Walsh, SPC-5: 20 February 1948 - 03 December 2012.
February 26, 2016