Last month I got to experience something really awesome. I helped my parents host a reunion for Vietnam Veterans. Specifically, the unit my dad was in in Vietnam, the 1/92 Field Artillery. It took me a year to organize all of the details, visit all of the museums, tour possible hotels, restaurants and so on. Just thinking about the 4 day extravaganza made me tired. I really wish I had been able to do more with everyone, see more of the people and talk to them. Adeline and I couldn't keep up though. I didn't want to subject them to a cranky screaming baby just so I could hang out and chat. But we did make one friend in particular along the way. Tom.
You see, Tom has been battling pancreatic cancer for a while, he had lost well over 100 lbs and was very weak. But he made it a point to make this his first reunion, and boy was he determined. He has always had a hesitation to coming to the reunions, but made the plunge this year. At any rate, on the Thursday of the reunion he was just too tired to finish all of the stops for the day, and I was planning to take Adeline home so she could rest so we offered him a ride back to the hotel so he could rest up as well. That is, if he didn't mind a crazy kid riding along side of him. He gladly accepted the challenge. On the ride to the hotel we talked about his kids, and all sorts of stuff. I told him the last time I was in Dallas (which is the area he is from) it was for a Mary Kay event. He explained that he actually worked for a company that used Mary Kay Ash's original warehouse! Pretty neat. He was so grateful for the ride back, and for the work I had put in for the reunion. I of course told him the thanks should be to them, not me, and that this event was the least I could do. I almost cried on the ride home after we dropped him off. It occurred to me that his battles with cancer were probably related to his service in Vietnam, and his exposure to chemicals like agent orange. Meeting people like Tom really make you think, and appreciate your health. But I applauded the strength he did have and his determination to get to Atlanta (alone) to see these guys he fought next to, even if it were for one last time.
We had our big party on Saturday, and Tom was there all day - he and Brett had a good chat while Brett manned the smoker. Tom told him about his reluctance to come to past reunions, I guess he was worried people wouldn't like him. It seemed to me that he was quite the popular guy though! Which made me happy. At the end of the night on Saturday he was really sad to tell us all goodbye. I think we all got a little choked up, and it really was sad to tell him goodbye.
All in all I would say out of the 100+ people that were at the event, I had the opportunity to talk to Tom the most.
Yesterday afternoon I was told that Tom lost his battle with cancer. 15 days after he returned home from the reunion. My face felt hot, almost like an anger, and then the sadness set in, and it occurred to me that it was now time to go and tell dad the news.
There are just some things that you can't explain.
I can explain this though, I am so glad that I had the honor to meet Tom, and everyone else from the reunion. Now I know why it was so hard for him to tell everyone goodbye that night. At least I can say that I helped provide his first, and only reunion and that it was a memorable one. He is in a much better place now. May you rest in peace Tom.