Burned flags and lives of patriots cut short are too often today's remembrances of the Vietnam War. But for me, as young boy growing up in the 1960s, the war wasn't about destruction- it was about my dad.
My dad was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. He was a combat pilot in the Air Force. He was very patriotic and sympathetic to the war and, wanting to be just like him, so was I. My room was decorated in red, white, and blue. From the bedspread to the posters on the wall everything said, "American made" and "the American way." Model rockets and airplanes that my dad and I had built together were my prized possessions--that was, until he was called to active duty.
As much as I loved my country, I didn't want my Dad flying over war zones in Vietnam. But my wants were not to be realized. "Timmy, you are the man of the house now. Take care of your mother and your baby sister, Dorothy," he said.
"I don't want to be the man of the house," I snapped, as he reached for a package hidden between the slipcovers of the couch.
"Who could this be for?" he mused. "On the card it reads, 'This is for the man of the house.' The name on the card is Timmy Hill. It must be for you."
I tore open the wrapping paper and discarded the bright ribbon in hopes of finding a model airplane. I was disappointed to see a superman cape.
"You'll be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and even attract Lois Lane wearing this cape," Dad quipped as he tied the superman cape around my neck. He then bid me farewell.
It seems odd for a grown man to admit that wearing a superman cape made any difference, but that's just what happened. I felt more confident. I began to spread peanut butter on my own sandwiches without asking mom for help. I wore the cape everywhere: in the sandbox, the bathtub, and at church.
Isn't Timmy cute in the cape?" adults remarked. Friends were less kind. "How's Lois?" they asked. "Are you a bird, a plane, or could you be superman?" strangers shouted, "Show me how to leap a tall building and fly faster than a speeding bullet."
As the days of my dad's absence grew into months, I wore the cape less often. However I always kept it near my pillow, next to GI Joe and the airplane models. When the house was still and my thoughts wandered to whether my Dad would come home, I clutched the cape for assurance that all was well. The day my Dad returned to Fort Riley was a day I'll never forget--it was a hero's welcome. The military band played and the Air Force officers wore their finest uniforms. I proudly wore my Superman cape. During the awards ceremony, my dad insisted that I sit on his lap.
When his name was called to step forward and receive a medal for bravery, he insisted that I come forward, too. He had the commanding officer pin the medal on my cape.
My son Timmy is the real hero," Dad announced over the microphone. "He was the man of the house while I was gone."
Years have passed since that awards ceremony. And like my Dad, I became a fighter pilot. I have flown many missions that have taken me to military bases through out out the United States and abroad. In my absence, my family raises an American flag on a flagpole in our yard. Below the flag is my superman cape for extra courage. Neighbors and curious passerby often ask my wife, "Why the cape?" She shares with them the story of my Dad, and so it has been for years.
But on September 11, 2001, everything changed. That day I raised the flag and the superman cape at half-mast in our front yard. With the Twin Towers in New York City destroyed, I knew it would not be long until I would be called into a war zone--like my dad had been decades before.
Within a few weeks, I received notice that I would be transporting soldiers to Afghanistan for an extended stay. News of the assignment was difficult for my wife and children. I knew that they needed extra emotional support. Wanting them to have the best, I visited my bedridden Dad.
I need you to take care of mother, sister Dorothy, and my own family," I said. Dad lamented. "I'm too old and sick. I can't do it." He then gave a detailed explanation of his afflictions.
I listened attentively to his rationale before handing him the wrapped package tied with red, white and blue ribbon. He brightened as his gnarled hands removed the wrapping paper to reveal its hidden contents. Inside the package was the tattered Superman cape and a note that read, "You can leap tall buildings in a single bound and even attract Louis Lane wearing this." I tied the superman cape around Dad's neck and bid him farewell.
I left for a war zone. My Dad, attired in the Superman cape, arose from the sick bed with the same courage he inspired in a younger hero many years before. He showed me once again that every Superman needs a Dad.