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The first time I ever saw my Dad cry I was 9 and he brought our family to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. He was then an active duty Marine and we were stationed in Quantico, VA while he went through some sort of training program to become an officer. Truth be told, I never really paid too much attention to what program or specialized training my Dad was doing when I was younger and I glazed over whenever he would talk about "the war". He was a weapons specialist and would talk about "going to the field" and come back with stories of blowing up mock buildings and how high the Hum-V blew in the air after they hit it with a rocket launcher. You know, dinner conversation. Growing up hearing about it made it seem commonplace, like it was something everyone's Dad did. Living on a military base made it all the more normal because all of our friends lived on base too and all of their Dads and Moms were shooting rocket launchers at Hum-V's too. It wasn't special or weird and it certainly wasn't something I gave any real thought to.
Until we were at that wall.
He was feverishly looking for the names of his friends; checking the list, looking back at the wall, "it should be right here! The map says it's right here!" He was getting more and more angry. I couldn't understand what was so important about finding some stupid name on a wall and I certainly didn't understand why he was getting so mad about it.
And then he found the first name. And then another. And then more and more. And then, I saw my big tough 'sempri fi do or die' Dad rest his head on the wall we drove all this way to see and weep.
And in that moment, I understood. He told my Sister and I stories about his friends while he made rubbings of their names on little white pieces of paper. Funny stories of 18-year old boys who answered the call and found themselves in Vietnam and heart wrenching stories about how each one of those young men died far before his time.
I know now that we were in Quantico while my Dad was in Officer Candidate's School while he was working his way through the ranks to become an Officer. I know that he retired as a Chief Warrant Officer 3 with the respect and admiration of every man who ever served with him. I know that he wears glasses because he was hit with shrapnel under his right eye when the helicopter (he would never call it that, he would have said Loach) he and his friend were flying was hit and went down. I know that his friend didn't make it and there wasn't enough of him left to send home. I know that he carries around that memory and so many other tragic memories with him every single day. And I know that he sacrificed a lot more than 20/20 vision during his 24 years serving our country.
I also know that my Dad, CWO3 Michael A. Martin, retired, is my hero and today I want to say thank you to him, thank you to all who serve and thank you to all who have served.