By Terri Barnes
My dad never told war stories. I remember the day he came
back from Vietnam. I woke up in the backseat of our car and saw him, his big
round “wheel hat” silhouetted against the sun. I recognized the hat and the
voice, though I couldn’t see his face, as he reached in to pick me up. I was 2
years old. So, as far back as I can remember, I knew he had been to war, but he
never told stories about it.
He told other stories. When I was in grade school we were
stationed in Alaska. When Daddy would come home from work, I would sit on his
lap, breathe in the smell of his flight suit, eat the dessert he saved from his
flight lunch and hear about the places he had been and people who had flown with
An old photo reminds me of one story. It shows my dad, who
was a crew chief, standing in front of his plane on a snowy tarmac. Beside him
is Santa Claus, who hitched a ride on the plane to help deliver supplies in
remote Arctic areas.
I remember letters from his second tour in Southeast Asia.
He never wrote about hardship. He would usually remind me to say my prayers and
mind my mother. He taught me about peace, even when he wasn’t experiencing it.
Only when I was older did my mother tell me that Dad’s
mission in Vietnam was a dangerous one of flying over enemy territory, that he
had lost friends there, that he had bad dreams, and that he didn’t tell her war
Now I live with another veteran, my husband. He has been in
war zones, but he doesn’t tell many war stories. In his e-mails and phone calls
he tells us about the guys in his Bible study, or the troops he meets who love
old Mustangs or surfing, like he does. Our children don’t hear many war stories
even after he is safe at home.
He comes closest to telling war stories when he describes
nurses and technicians in a combat surgical unit standing in a circle in the
ER, holding hands, crying and praying after caring for a severely wounded
soldier. But even that is a story of peace — of looking to the only
Source of peace when the world offers none.
As a newspaper reporter, I once tried to interview a World
War II veteran who had been in the Bataan Death March. I succeeded only in
speaking to his wife on the phone.
“He doesn’t talk about it much,” she said.
War stories may be hard to tell and hard to hear, but maybe
the war has to come out so that peace can come in. My husband is of a
generation that has learned this lesson better than my father’s. And I am
willing to hear war stories. I am willing to know what peace costs. Peace is
not free or easy. It is hard won. It must be pursued, and war stories are
stories of that pursuit.
Still, the best stories are peace stories: Not fairy tales
pretending war and death and suffering don’t happen, but true stories of peace
reaching beyond conflict, stories insisting that God’s peace is stronger than
any war and that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will
guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, NIV).
So thanks, Dad, for the peace stories. We owe our gratitude
to you and to all veterans who have endured the real story of war so that
others are free to hear the story of Peace.
TERRI BARNES with her husband, Chaplain Mark Barnes, and
their three children, are now stationed in Germany. Her column “Spouse Calls,”
for military spouses, appears weekly in Stars and Stripes (www.stripes.com).
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