Happy Veterans Day! This holiday has a special place in my heart, as so many of my family members have served in the military. My dad served in Vietnam (in the above photo, he’s in the back row, far right with the radio), and both of my grandfathers served in World War II. My mom is a member of Daughters of the American Revolution, and she has found a number of our ancestors who were Patriots in the Revolutionary War. One of my favorite family history finds was my great-grandpa’s draft card for World War I. His signature looked exactly like my handwriting! Now I know who to blame for my chicken scratch…
I am so grateful to all the men and women throughout history who have been brave enough to stand up for what they felt was right. I can’t imagine the horrors they’ve experienced. To be honest, I don’t even want to try. Without those veterans’ service, our country would not be what it is today.
My dad, Rod Farkas, did reconnaissance in Vietnam. He never spoke about it growing up. The only thing I knew was that we could only have rice for dinner on nights that Dad was working because that’s all he really ate on some recon missions.
After college, while I was serving a church mission in Thailand near the Cambodian border, he said, “When I was your age, I was serving a different type of mission on the Vietnam-Cambodian border. Our platoon was going in to Cambodia to rescue refugees from the Khmer Rouge.” That was the first time in my life he spoke to me about his service. It was such a gift to learn a bit of his story, especially since it meant he had started to heal.
When I got home from Thailand, Dad had written a few of his memories to share with us, including “How an Ant Saved My Life.” Here is that story in his own words:
In the heat of a Vietnamese afternoon, one person stayed awake and on guard; the others slept. Night was the time when ambushes were set up, and often more people were awake at night than during the day. Sargeant “Smitty” Smith was asleep. Our medic, “Doc” Mitchem was the man on guard.
Doc saw some Viet Cong coming down a trail and had just enough time to hit Smitty on the arm to alert him. Smitty, who was a real combat veteran, awoke, M16 in hand, and opened fire on the enemy, killing at least one.
So that afternoon, Smitty was a hero. By the next morning, that would change.
Late that night when Doc was on guard, Smitty woke up on his own. He had been reliving the day and the firefight with the Viet Cong [while asleep]. He had his M16 on full automatic. He rolled out of his hammock. Doc Mitchem could see him and had time to say, “Smitty, don’t” before Smitty opened fire right at Doc.
Some of the damage caused was that Doc had a sucking chest wound and two or more rounds in his chest and arm at the elbow. He was lucky the other team medic (the real hero of this story) was there to patch him up. He was flown out on a Med-Evac helicopter and later sent back to the world (our name for the United States) with life threatening wounds that he would never completely recover from.
Earlier that night, I had moved from the radio site [where he normally slept] because ants were biting me. I was going to get some sleep, and for some reason left the soft canteen that I used as my pillow back at the radio…The next day I found my “pillow” at the radio site with an M16 round right through it. Had my head been where it normally was, the same round would probably have gone through me too. So after all these years, “Thanks black ant–I owe you my life.” But in fact I probably killed the ants that were biting me.
My mom told me once that she knew very little about Dad’s experiences in Vietnam, but that she thought he probably shared some of them with her father, who had served in WWII. Here is my grandpa’s story, taken from a life sketch written after his death:
World War II started in September 1939, when Jimmy was 14 years old. The United States entered the war in December 1941 after Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was attacked. Jimmy was only 16 years old then, but he desperately wanted to join the navy and help support the Allied troops. The official age that men could sign up for the war was 18, but Jimmy lied about his age and joined when he was 17.
Jimmy served four years, mostly in the South Pacific islands on an aircraft carrier–a giant ship that carried airplanes. Jimmy’s brother Wes was also in the navy, but he worked on another ship that hauled fuel to the other ships. One day, Wes’ tanker ship was delivering fuel to Jim’s aircraft carrier. Wes asked someone if Jim was on that ship, and they were able to yell back and forth between their ships and talk.
They were really excited to see each other, because in the middle of the war, they couldn’t go visit family. Seeing his brother was very special, and Wes and Jim laughed and talked happily about that time for the rest of their lives.
Veterans, we thank you for your service! Click here for a list of over 45 places offering discounts for veterans and their families, on Veterans Day and beyond.
Do you have any family stories to share of loved ones on this Veterans Day? We’d love to hear them! Please share in the comments below.