He had volunteered for a second time because he wanted to help. One day, he was driving a jeep on a mail run, munching on an apple. A German pilot who commandeered an American plane, flew overhead. Witnesses said he made no effort to hide, and the airman riddled him with shots from his right shoulder diagonally to his left leg. They found him with the partly eaten apple still in his hand.

I handed Daddy the nails and asked another question. I couldn't help myself. “In the war, Daddy. Did you know people who died?”Again, he avoided a response.

Recently, I had rummaged through several brown cartons of photographs my father had taken with his Brownie black box camera. I came across a photo from the war. At first I thought I was looking at skeletons in piles, but as I stared closer, I realized these were not skeletons, but emaciated corpses. For the first time, I realized Daddy must have seen this and other gruesome sights like it.

“Come here, Connie. Hold this board while I saw it.” I did my best to get a strong grip on the board and my patience. Why doesn't he answer me?

Meanwhile, as the saw screeched, I remembered what we were told about the spirit of the war effort. In New Orleans, Grandma Agnes and Aunt Leta spent their afternoons at the Red Cross, tirelessly wrapping gauze to make bandages. My mother drew blueprints for fighter planes. Because she was a seamstress and worked with patterns, she was considered highly qualified. Grandpa Edier built the famous Liberty Ships used for shipping and troop transport.

The electric saw came to a halt. Daddy laid it down, removed his goggles, and shook the wood shavings from them.

With the persistence of a ten-year-old, I repeated a second time. ”In the war, Daddy. Did you ever have to kill someone?" I understood soldiers killed an enemy to protect us. That must be okay--unless it was my daddy doing the killing.

He took a long swig from the glass of water at the end of his work table, then leaned against it and answered me. "Yes, I knew people who were killed.”

During the pause that followed, my heart ached, I said nothing.

 “But I never shot anyone." Thank God. I knew I wouldn’t have stopped loving him, but I would have been sorry if he had.

A short while later, another question came up. "Why didn’t you have to kill?”

"I worked for a general in the headquarters, so we weren't where people got killed. We handled communications so the officers could make decisions on the their orders and keep track of where the troops were. Because I spoke French, I was an interpreter too.” My chest swelled with pride. What an important job. And he didn't have to kill anyone.

World War II ended in the spring of 1945, and Mom and Dad were married the following September. With victory came a promise: World War II was the war to end all wars.” There would be no more slaughter. I never gave it another thought until one late fall morning in 1965. I was 18 years old when my boyfriend, David Ellison, and I sat next to Cyprus Lake on the then USL campus in Lafayette, Louisiana.

He pulled me to him, kissed my forehead, and stared into my eyes with furrowed brows. "I might have to go to war."

“War…what war?" Silence. “Is there a war?”

"In Vietnam." He stood, paced with hands deep in his pockets, and stared at the ground.

"Where is Vietnam?" Ironically, I had just come from my World Geography class, but most Americans at the time, had no idea

"In the East, near China.” Since there was a name and an actual place, it must be true. There was a war.

"So, the war to end all wars was a lie.” I felt my lips snarl involuntarily as I tried to keep sarcasm at bay.

Yeah, what a joke.”

My mouth agape, my mind reeled. "I don’t want you to go.” 

“Well, some guys can get deferments to attend college. But you need a certain grade point average, and I don't have it. We had partied a lot as freshmen, and his grades suffered.  

A week later, he volunteered for the U.S. Navy to avoid being on the ground with army troops. In boot camp he scored high on the battery of tests given to newly enlisted men and was assigned to duty on submarines. After a short furlough, he left for war in January, 1966



Furious that our life plans--get college degrees and marry--were shot to Hell, I fumed. But, my life time of indoctrination taught me how things were. We're the good guys; they're the bad guys. A friend of his fled the country to avoid the draft, but David’s patriotism kept him from doing that.

One weekend, during his first tour of duty, I went home from college. The phone rang, and it was a pal from high school. "Connie, have you heard about John Marceau?"

Seeing body bags daily on the news, I  was used to hearing bad news. My mind went numb. "No."

"He was killed in action. His helicopter was shot down while evacuating wounded soldiers.” My legs buckled, and I fell backward on my bed. I thought of how John had stuttered while asking me to the prom just a few months ago.

I had enough. Grabbing a large, glass container filled with pennies, I hurled it against the wall, splattering copper coins and glass shards around the room. My parents rushed in. "What's the matter?" Dad asked. I’m sure they couldn’t imagine what had caused such an erratic and uncharacteristic eruption.

Having held back my words in deference to their beliefs, I exploded. "I hate this damned war. John Marceau is dead. Dead!”

Once the venom flowed, I continued. "This is a crime. It's murderous. We are killing civilians--women, children, the elderly.” After my breathing calmed down, I said, "Look, I know your generation believes in war, and you would never say anything against our government. Well, sorry to disrespect you, but I don't feel the way you do.”

David returned from Vietnam two years later in the spring of 1968, and we set a wedding date for July.  One beautiful April afternoon, we relaxed on the swing in his backyard, dotted with blooming azalea plants.

Suddlenly, he clamped his fists until the knuckles turned white. ”What’s wrong, Sweetheart?”

He shook his head as if to clear it. “I’m just remembering something.”

“What is it? Do you want to talk about it?”

He avoided eye contact. “One night we were underwater off the North Vietnam coast, and we saw British ships delivering arms to the enemy.” Only then did he lift his eyes to mine.

“The British? Transporting arms to the Viet Cong? That can’t be right. You must have misunderstood or something. The British would never do that.”

“Everyone on the sub witnessed it. And we were sworn to secrecy.”

The world around me receeded. I heard my faint voice ask, “Why would they do that?”

David lifted his tired eyes and said, “Money.”

“Wait a minute. You’re saying the British sold arms to the enemy? If that’s so, and you sailors knew it, then the government must know it, too.” I did not want to believe that our own government would put our soldiers at risk of death for profit. But there it was.

Since David returned, my rage had simmered some, but learning this rejuvenated it. Fury poounded through my blood like a galloping stallion. Was John’s helicopter shot down with arms the British sold to the North?

David had come home safe from war--but not sound. As we slept in our marital bed, he would jump up and run aimlessly. One night he threw me on the floor, thinking I was a Viet Cong. He drank heavily and threatened violence until in 1978, our marriage dissolved and ended in divorce. He never recovered. Both of us casualities of war.

Twenty-five years later in my fifties, I sat next to Daddy on his deathbed and held his hand thinking of all he had done for me. My eyes lifted to his face to find him looking at me with his beautiful blue eyes. After a moment, he spoke softly. "Don't tell Momma, but I don't believe in war either.”

I gasped. Can this be true? He had never even alluded to this. Both our eyes moistened as we continued our gaze. Throughout the war and all those years afterward, he hid this gut-wrenching secret––until now as he lay dying.

With that one short sentence, he validated me. And, just as I had felt relief he had not killed anyone, I felt relief he had understood me all these years.



  A pencil rendering by Connie Hebert of Eraste Hebert 1918-2001