WHEN DAD WAS SENT OVERSEAS

There were those times when Dad was sent overseas without us, usually to a war zone.  My earliest memories of this happened when Dad was in Korea.  Mother would send him a box from home.  One time Dad wanted a pipe and some tobacco.  Remember, this was around 1952, and nearly all adults smoked.  Mother had a very strict weight limit for anything mailed to that distant part of the world.  She took her kitchen scale, weighed the box with the pipe in it, and then wrapped some of the tobacco in tissue paper before stuffing it into the box to provide some padding for the pipe.  Finally, the desired low weight was achieved, and the result mailed to Dad in his tent in Korea.

Towards the end of his time there, weight restrictions were eased a bit.  Mother, with the ‘help’ of a three year old me, would bake cookies, put them in a coffee can with crumpled wax paper to cushion the precious cargo, and mail it to Dad.  (This was in the era of metal coffee cans, and the lids did fit snugly onto the top of the can.  All Mother had to do to it was to tape it down with electrical tape, wrap it in brown paper so she could write the address on it, and mail the result.) I asked Dad about those cookies, and he said they were the best crumbs he ever ate!  (So much for the cushioning of the crumpled wax paper…)

I was a freshman in college when Dad was sent to Vietnam.  Letter tapes were the in thing then, although there were some traditional paper in envelops letters as well.  Still, those tapes were wonderful!!  We could actually hear Dad’s voice, and he could hear ours.  Which sounds really old-timey in this era of face to face conversations via iPhones or tablets and computers with Skype.

Mother and I would send him boxes of things- frequently edibles.  Evidently we over did the sweets, as he complained he had enough to cause diabetes.  Again, there were cookies baked.  Dad loved oatmeal about the best, although he didn’t complain at all about the Christmas sugar cookies and ice box cookies we sent, along with crackers- in small packages so the humidity wouldn’t ruin them.  Small cans of ready to eat ham.  Maybe canned shrimp.  Once, someone sent him a box of raisins.  But, it was summer time, and mail sometimes had to wait a while before apace was found for it on a plane.  The long and short if it is, the raisins were ‘inhabited’ by the time they arrived.  Oops!!

There were things we couldn’t send him though.  The local paper advertised a willingness to send daily papers to local guys in Vietnam.  Sadly, when the paper listed the names of those being sent the paper, those frustrated with the war took it out on some of the listed families.  When Dad came home, we met him at the gate!  It was obvious that he was back from the war zone, and that we were his family greeting him.  Some manner-less wonder glared at him, and flipped him the ‘bird’.  Sadly, Dad remembered that rude gesture as much as he remembered his joy at being reunited with us.

Years later, he was invited to a “Thank You Korean Veterans” dinner by the local Korean American community.  After a dinner, including kimchee and other Korean delicacies, he was given a crystal-looking commemoration.  Never mind that it was the earlier conflict, receiving that thoughtful token meant a great deal to Dad, and it eased his annoyance with the airport incident when he returned that last time.

I learned an appreciation for even simple gestures. Even back in the world of the 1950s, sending a coffee can of delicious crumbs could reach a loved one across the world, and take that person back home, even if that connection lasted for only a few minutes.  I remember Dad telling me just how much mail from home meant.  Even if the post office had closed for the day, Dad could see if he had mail waiting for him.  And if there was something in that little cubbyhole, he could savor the knowledge that there was something waiting for him to open in the morning.  To men overseas, wealth wasn’t, and still isn’t, measured in money.  The wealthiest soldier is the one whose mailbox, literal or e-mail, frequently has Facetime/ Skype  and packages from home; the poorest person, even if he or she is high ranking, is the soldier who gets few or no messages or packages.  Mother and I made sure Dad always felt a wealth of love from us.

 

Jan Wertz



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