Down Here on the Ground       The Family Front    63 - 73   When Fathers Fly Away


About Jim

The blog deals chronologically with an unusual period in our history and the personal significance it holds for families that lived the story. I’m a retired educator living in western Pennsylvania where we’ve resided for 28 years. Marina and I have restored our 1852 farmhouse over time and recently resurrected & painted our 100-year-old barn. With our beautiful children grown and gone it's just the two of us and Puzzle, our wonderful mixed spaniel.     

Thanks for visiting.



Beaver, Pennsylvania  15009


About The Blog

In this space we focus on a thin slice of history and describe its impact from a unique point of view – the home front – the families and friends of those imprisoned or missing during the Vietnam War. Posts will deal with both personal family experience and concurrent history... including interludes where the two intersect. I hope you find the content engaging and that you will share similar (or maybe conspicuously contrasting) feelings and perceptions in your comments. 

Please be supportive and respect the viewpoints of all who share.

Frequently Asked Questions

How would you characterize the nature of these entries and the subject matter?

The entries focus on the years leading up to and including the Vietnam War. The ‘point of view’ is as a family member following the shoot-down of a husband and father in 1965. This dynamic presents a unique perspective on a long, complicated, and divisive war. Inside the ‘military bubble,’ families were told to remain silent, not volunteer any information, and to trust U.S. institutions and negotiators to represent the best interests of imprisoned aviators. This initial ‘Advice to Families’ held force for three to four years until spouses and children of prisoners saw silence as a neutralizing tactic rather than a representation of good faith.

And by the way, if and when any, random 28-year-old lieutenant’s wife (with a couple of children) receives “Advice to Families of Prisoners and Missing in Action” on Defense Department letterhead, it is mislabeled. The Navy wife knows she is not receiving ‘advice.’ These directions are as close to issuing civilians “an order” as our military can manifest. Direct correspondence with military dependents was almost unheard of until each branch of the service (stumbling to catch up with this self-inflicted annoyance) felt they needed to control any related information. A faceless Pentagon’s response (‘Advice to Families’) was clear. It was an order issued to grieving wives or widows in the midst of desperate confusion and in their most fragile and emotional moments.

And that was just the initiation. Welcome to the party.

What leads you to do this now? How would you characterize its value?

It has always been in the back of my mind to document these events and the accompanying, broader history. The challenge has always been to braid or weave together multiple strands or perceptions of the same (or adjacent) events. Our family and Dad’s career are almost inextricably linked to the beginning of the Vietnam War. What was to become a long, sad commentary on American misadventure began with ‘clandestine’ provocations deliberately kept secret from the American people. Not the first time and (we know now) not the last that we, as a people, have confronted the fact that often as not, we start a war with our own lies.

When we see sudden news reports (as in 1964) that American ships have been attacked on the high seas without provocation, we are dumbfounded in the short term. The general population doesn’t know what to make of it and we’re caught up in short shockwave wondering why anyone would do such a thing. But while the vast majority of citizens are processing these conceptual questions, there are those in government who know exactly what is happening and are moving quickly to shape a response that conforms to their theories or otherwise meets other needs. Often the ‘other needs’ of politicians, policy wonks or four-stars can be dangerous and deadly for ‘other people.’

I think examining such a situation in detail might shed some light on where we make our mistakes and what we might do differently when (for most of us) unforeseen circumstances lead to a military response. There’s a cautionary tale here that may someday make a difference when you hear something on the news that furrows your eyebrows and makes you wonder, ‘What in the hell is that all about?’ OR, when some event causes more persistent cognitive dissonance, you might want to start looking for the real (if secret) causes underneath the persistent, political show-and-tell.

If it serves neither of these purposes, the blog can spin out into cyberspace as a plagiarism target for some lucky college sophomore who needs an essay for his or her afternoon class. So – for what it’s worth – here’s the story.

Just what the world needs – another Vietnam memoir.

Does anything ‘come next?’ After reading and commenting, is there any follow-up?

This is a public website, accessible to all – but I write with a couple of target audiences in mind. First, I am wondering if others who grew up in similar circumstances might share their experiences. I respect any on-topic sharing whether memories correspond with mine or not and hope you will take the time to comment on what you read. I do my best to answer questions and engage in meaningful dialogue.

With sufficient interest, there may be other connections for more in-depth or longer-term discussion. That decision can be made among those interested. Several individual and ‘couples’ autobiographies about the imprisonment years are on the shelves – but few mention the impact of the experience on their children. In many ways, all involved family members spent their lives around the Vietnam War soaked in the experience.

I would be surprised if other sons and daughters who grew up embroiled in the POW/MIA mess and miasma don’t occasionally wonder how the experience impacted their actions and choices during (and after) ‘growing up dependent.’ Among the few I have met, questions and different descriptions abound. Stories about the years of re-engagement after ‘Dad’s return’ persevere particularly well.

What we recall (and maybe magnify) are not necessarily happy homecoming stories. Every shiny, smiling reunion photo on the piano seems accompanied by memory of a family dinner or holiday in subsequent years that blew up in argument or fisticuffs over politics or lifestyle. If that sounds all too typical for any American household, consider the additional containment of anger, frustration, emotion, and guilt (yes, guilt) that may have festered for five, six, or seven years. All of that lingering, countervailing emotion is what is REALLY behind the sometimes-hateful exchanges that ensue.

Unless individuals have sought counseling on their own (an approach anathema to the ethos of many military families) there is no ‘container’ or remedy for this frustration. Feelings or healthy developmental growth took a back seat to projection of a stoical appearance or façade “for the sake of the family.” Children were expected, for the most part, to ‘toe the line.’ But compressing an atmosphere of sadness and uncertainty only postpones the consequences of broken faith and strained relationships. Without release, all these forces ferment for years within families until pressure builds among conflicting views or expectations and explodes.

Sometimes it takes weeks. Sometimes years.

But as marriages limp along and kids kick the can of questions and confusions down the road – in all homes except the most remarkably blessed – it will explode.

It may be on what we used to call a “slo-blo” fuse but sooner or later the desperation in the wiring will ignite and the resentment in the circuits will burn.

Collateral Damage

Say Hello