Christopher Stampone

 

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                I was only ten the day I met my grandfather, Fredrick Stuchal. It was Memorial Day and my family traveled to the local cemetery to pay their respects to the man they lovingly called “Nano”. At first, I couldn’t understand why we were there nor did I have any inclination why he was dead.  My grandmother, Emily Stuchal, was still young at heart, and very alive when I first got to meet Fredrick. At ten years old, I was very inquisitive as to how things worked and why everything happened in the world.  So, I simply looked up at Emily and asked her “why is Nano gone grandma?”  But, it wasn’t until we got home that my grandmother sat me on her sturdy lap and told me the story of Nano, and how he lost his life because of war.

                It was the early sixties when Nano and Emily first met.  They both went to the same high school and attended several classes together their senior year.  Shortly after graduating, they wed and in less than a year, Emily had a child.  Nano worked at a local gas station and Emily stayed at home and raised my aunt Suzette.  They were happy and in just a few years, they had three children and a small house in the same town they grew up in.  It wasn’t until 1965 that my grandparents’ world was turned upside down.  The United States officially waged war against North Korea, throwing thousands of soldiers into harm's way.  Every night they would watch the news and see how the war was coming along. It wasn’t looking too good for the Americans.  In 1970, along with his best friend and several other people in the community, Nano was drafted to fight for the United States. At that point of the story, Emily began to cry and told me “he couldn’t even raise his voice to the children, he couldn’t possibly raise a gun to hurt another man.” He reluctantly left for Vietnam, but would often write home to tell of the hideous things he saw including the death of his best friend, Tim. Apparently, during a shoot out with the Vietnamese, Tim and Fred were ordered to vacate the area. As they were running, Fred saw a Vietnamese soldier draw a gun behind them. Fred screamed, “Down Tim, get down!” But it was too late; Tim fell to the ground and was instantly dead.

It was 1973 when Nano came home and he quickly attended some business he left unsettled.  Nano went to Tim’s house to tell his wife what had happened and pay his respects to the family.  When he got to the door Tim’s child answered and asked where his dad was.  The mere question caused Nano to break down. According to my grandma, “he never got over that child and his question.”  Not only did Tim die but also every single member of the community that was drafted perished; my grandfather the single survivor.  It was a spectacle to both my grandparents, seeing several neighborhood children have to grow up fatherless.  “The children were rebels, with no respect for authority” Emily said of the local children who robbed their house several times. In fact, Nano wasn’t much of a father after the war either; he struggled with nightmares and flashbacks often sleeping less than three hours a day. 

It was the Fourth of July when he died.  He was outside, walking to my aunt’s house down the road when explosions of fireworks were set off.  My grandfather jumped down to the pavement and was heard throughout the neighborhood screaming “Tim get down!”  The fireworks caused him to have a heart attack; he died on the ground, screaming for a friend who had died years ago.

                I still go to visit my grandfather Fredrick every Memorial Day weekend.  However, I now know the truth of my grandfather’s short-lived life and of the small neighborhood that struggled without fathers. War tore my family apart and slowly killed my grandfather. Vietnam killed thousands of men, leaving children with an empty space at the dinner table, forcing them to ask the question “mom, where is my father?”