Early Sunday morning, Ian sent an e-mail that Vietnam War veterans especially will find meaningful.
Before I explain why, let me say how moved my wife and I are by the e-mails streaming in from NRO readers everywhere — heartfelt expressions of support for our son, coming literally from around the world. I am forwarding every one of them to Ian, who is reading them and buoyed by the support. We are grateful to you all.
This story starts with a Vietnam War veteran named Jim Dunn. We know Jim from church. When Jim found out that Ian would be deployed to Kuwait, he said they should get together, even if briefly, before Ian shipped out. Jim had something to give him.
A little over three weeks ago, they found the opportunity to meet. Jim basically told Ian his Vietnam story. From April 1967 to May 1968, he was an army lieutenant with the Big Red 1. He didn’t have to point out that his job was especially perilous — he flew in a helicopter as an artillery observer.
After being in Southeast Asia about two months, Jim was pining for his home back in Michigan. He wrote his mom and asked that she send him something from the Wolverine State, anything to remind him of home. A few weeks later he received a package in the mail; in it was a large Michigan flag.
Jim was thrilled. From that day forward, he carried that bit of home in his rucksack and hung the flag wherever he bivouacked. In early February 1968, Jim and the infantry found themselves bivouacked at Phu Loi, about 60 miles north of Saigon. It was during the Tet offensive, and his base came under attack. At one point a piece of enemy shrapnel ripped a hole through the flag — but it stayed up through the battle.
The flag survived Tet, and so did Jim (even though his helicopter was later shot down and he was shot up). The young first lieutenant always regarded that flag as a symbol of survival, of gritty perseverance amid danger. But he also saw in the flag something more….
Jim told all this to Ian. At the end of their meeting, he took a white box out of his car, opened it up, and unfurled his Michigan flag. “Ian,” he said, “I want you to take this flag to Kuwait. Take it and put it up in your tent. And whenever you look at it, remember the people back home who love and support and appreciate you.”
Ian was deeply moved. He knows enough history, and has heard enough stories in our own family, to know that Vietnam War veterans were not particularly appreciated by the public when they returned home. Later that evening, our son carefully packed Jim’s flag in his military-issue duffle bag. A couple of days later it went with him to Kuwait.
That’s the background to the e-mail Ian sent his mom Sunday morning. He was in high spirits, reporting that he was receiving 10 to 15 e-mails a day, and that all of his college buddies were staying in touch. Just like a 19-year-old, he added that “a lot of the girls are e-mailing me too — sending me very nice messages. It brings a smile to my face.”
Then came this line:
Mom, today I sent Jim’s flag up with a bird and am waiting for it to return… I love you.
As Ian was typing out his message, maybe as we were reading his message later that morning, some A-10 pilot from Michigan was flying deep into Iraqi territory with that flag, a reminder of the love and support and appreciation we Americans feel for our brave men and women in uniform.
Last night I telephoned Jim and told him what Ian had done. I could tell it raised a lump in his throat. After a moment, he said, “I just want Ian to have that flag. I know it will keep him safe.”
— Gleaves Whitney is editing a book of wartime speeches by American presidents, to be published later this year by Rowman & Littlefield. This is the third in a series of reports about his 19-year-old son Ian, who is serving in Kuwait with the Michigan Air National Guard (1, 2).