My Dad Was John Rambo

In the 80s, I used to watch movies like crazy—like they were going out of style. One popular genre of 80s movies that I loved were Vietnam movies. Rambo is the first and foremost that comes to mind. John Rambo (aka Sylvester Stallone) was a Vietnam War vet who had come home and was wandering on foot or by hitchhiking across the country. I remember this movie vividly the first time Jimmy (now Jim, my older brother) and I watched it when I was about six or seven at a local pastor’s house. 

The movie starts out with John visiting another vet, only to find out he had died of a disease he picked up in Vietnam. Then, as John moves on, he is walking into a town where he intends to get something to eat, maybe clean up since he’s been living in the woods much like he did in Vietnam. 

A cop stops and picks him up, offering him a ride into town or rather through town as it turns out. The cop did not want John Rambo walking into his town. He viewed him as a bum, leftover trash from the Vietnam War. The book goes into more detail about why, but nevertheless he didn’t want him hanging out in his town and judged him simply by the way that he looked.

This annoyed John to the point where he refused to be put out. He needed a meal. He had served his country and should be thanked, not excommunicated. After the cop dropped him off at the opposite edge of town, outside of its borders, John turned around and walked back into town. The cop didn’t like this so much and arrested Rambo for vagrancy, disrespect and refusing to obey the orders of a law enforcement officer.

Rambo was treated terribly as he was arrested and his PTSD quickly created a scenario where he attacked the officers in return as he broke out of jail and escaped their custody, returning to the woods. They chased after him and the rest was movie cinematic history. First Blood was one of the most popular Vietnam era movies of the 80s. It was certainly that for my brother, Jim and I.

Many others also joined this cash cow of that day and told stories of many veterans that made it out alive. Missing In Action, Born on the Fourth of July and even the sequel to First Blood, Rambo were all popular movies that depicted the aftermath of individuals that survived the Vietnam War. 

This is where it gets real personal. If you’ve read my memoir, NEVER SETTLED, you learn that my dad struggled with life after Vietnam. Certainly, he struggled with life a bit as a teenager and struggled to accept the fact that he was adopted (and therefore given away by his birth mom) but, I believe his greatest struggle came as a result of Vietnam—particularly his battle with his emotions exasperated by drinking alcohol. 

My dad used to tell me that he drank all of about a six pack of beer throughout his entire high school career. Yet, during his worst days of drinking when I was young, he drank two cases of beer a night, then got up and went to work the next day, then did the same thing the next night.

On Memorial Day (as opposed to Veterans Day or other similar holidays) we celebrate those who have given their lives for our country. Those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and died in battle. That is not my dad. He returned home. In fact, had he not, I would never have been born since I arrived in 1973.

I’ve heard mixed reports of my dad being in Vietnam for a year—or for only 100 days and that he never experienced battle himself. But, the fact remains the same. It messed up my dad permanently even though he never suffered a single physical injury. Mentally, emotionally, he was never the same and alcoholism ravaged his life. His anger grew out of control and he never recovered.

Born on the Fourth of July was another movie that depicted the terrible ways that many servicemen were treated after they returned from Vietnam, magnifying their recovery with social disgust (as if they even had a choice in going). My dad certainly suffered from some of this himself.

This Memorial Day, I am remembering my dad who died this past August. No, he didn’t physically die in Vietnam, but he did die in so many other ways. He was never the same and it wreaked havoc on our lives as his family.

Thank you, Dad, for your service. May it not be in vain. May we never treat our war vets with such disdain. May we remember those we lost physically and in the many other ways our servicemen and women have suffered as a result of war. 

AND I pray that we do all we can as a country to remain both FREE and at PEACE with other nations. May God help us.

Published by Shawn D. Congleton

traveler, writer, lover of God, thinker, family dude, in no particular order

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