Like Father, Like Son

For Father’s Day today, I’d like to share with you all a sample of one of the chapters in my non-fiction memoir that I have been working on recently. This chapter focuses on my father and our affinity for near-death experiences. 

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“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”
- Norman Cousins

Chapter 2

Like Father, Like Son

“You’ll never hear the round that gets you.”

That is one thing he’s mentioned to me on numerous occasions whenever I asked him about his experience during the Vietnam War. He got drafted at a little over twenty years old. That little, well not so little, fact that he served in one of the worst wars in America’s history (speaking from the viewpoint of media perception), is one of the reasons why I can achieve so much. Whenever I am having a shitty day, I think about the time he served in Vietnam, and I instantly don’t let myself get too down. What I am going through is nowhere near as bad as whatever he went through. It’s about mindset. Something that I will cover later in this book, and something that is crucial if we want to unlock our purpose. Here, however, I want to recall some of the stories he’s told me over the years of growing up, and there is no place better to start than his experience in Vietnam.

On March 24th, 1971 at approximately 10:30 a.m. one of the colonels of his battalion, Colonel Balocchi flew in on his helicopter and asked who had the battalion radio. That was my father. He was the battalion radio officer. Colonel Balocchi took my dad, and they walked away towards the helicopter. And that’s when a bullet whizzed right by my father, close enough that he heard it shoot past his ear.

“You’ll never hear the round that gets you.”

He doesn’t know if the Vietcong were shooting at him or this colonel with him, but in June 2000, he was down south at an army convention and one of the lieutenants he had the pleasure of serving with told him that enemies typically shot at the radio officers first. Why? Well, as obvious as it may seem, nobody wants reinforcements coming, and that was my father’s job, to call in reinforcements.

While there were a numerous amount of close calls that he had in Vietnam, my father always mentions that one to me. He truly believes that that day he was supposed to die. That he cheated death on that day because he has some sort of purpose to fulfill. I find it interesting that I am writing this exact chapter on March 24th, 2021, 50 years after the incident, as if, yet again, some stroke of fate has propelled me to write. Some muse has taken over me and inspired me to get this story out of finding our purpose and not leaving this planet until we do so. Until we complete that goal.

My father also mentions another night to me that lives lucidly in his consciousness. It was the day before he got to go back home, August 19th, 1971. That day he decided to take the morning watch shift as to make sure he didn’t oversleep and miss his helicopter for he wasn’t going to spend another day in that place.

“I was assigned to the Camp Evans bunker line and at daybreak our duty on the bunker line was over and we turned in our weapons, M-60 Machine Guns, and whatever. My job that morning was to pick up my suitcase and head back over to the company compound in order to sign some forms for release and get the hell out of there. I had to get back to the helicopter platform to board a Shinook CH-47, we called it a shit hook, to get back to Phubai, where the 101st division headquarters were.

“That morning, the Vietcong launched mortar rounds into the base. They were aiming for the ammo dump on the back side. You can’t miss the mortars. Twice I heard them in Vietnam and they were no fun. And you knew what was going to happen. If it hits close to you, you’re going to get killed, seriously wounded, or disappear. And a bunch of them would be launched in quick succession before they leave the area. They did this because it would take the military a certain amount of time to get a reactionary force to try and take it out.

“I was in the foxhole, steel cap on, and had 500 rounds of the machine gun locked and loaded. I was ready for whatever. All I had to do pull the trigger. I was determined to get out of there.”

Thankfully, he did get out of there.

But his near-death experiences didn’t start in Vietnam.

My dad is from Loganville, but he went to college in Reedsburg. He told me the story of one night during the summer of 1968 that he went out—this was at the time where twenty-one wasn’t the official drinking age yet. He went from Reedsburg to Baraboo, Wisconsin, with his cousin, Jim Struck. He had his first beer of Budweiser, and they decided to go to Wisconsin Dells / Lake Delton. There, at a popular teen hangout place, he met some of his classmates, Dave Banks and Dale Meyer, who also happened to reside in Reedsburg. After a while, the two wanted to know if he wanted to ride back to Reedsburg with them. He said, “I came with Jim, so I’ll leave with Jim. Thanks, though.”

The next morning, my father’s mother turned on the radio and a news report came in of an accident and fatality. Dave Banks had died in a drunk driving accident.

Reflecting on this story at my time of writing this, I realize just how similar my father and I are. Like I said before: like father, like son. I recall a time when I was still living in the States. My friend and I were out drinking in a city perhaps thirty minutes away from my place. We were single, out of college, and he had a few friends that played in a local band around the area, so we went to support them one night. My friend drove me there, and we were both drinking. By the end of the night, he said we should head home, and I went into his two-seater mustang and we were off. He didn’t seem drunk.

It wasn’t even ten minutes later that he swerved off the road for whatever reason, went into a ditch, and hit a stop sign close by. We both exited the car not knowing what really happened, just that this situation wasn’t good. He tried to reverse his car out of the ditch but couldn’t. I called my mom and told her to come pick us up. She didn’t get there before the cops showed up and my friend was arrested for a DUI. That was his second one.

If I were to tell you, though, that these stories are still only the tip of the iceberg, would you believe me? Genetic disposition to near-death instances or not, my relationship with death has always been intimate, yet I am still here and living. Is that because I have a purpose? Surely I must, right?

My father has told me that, “I do believe that things have happened in life and I can’t explain it, but it wasn’t my time. I still had something to do yet. I’m not a big religious believer, a holy roller like your mom, but I do believe that when you’re born, the good Lord puts your name in a book and that’s when you’re fated to go and what you do with the time in between is up to you.”

To make this message to me even clearer, he told me the story of his grandfather. It was in late August, the day he returned from war. He knocked on the door and said, “ ‘Grandpa, are you there?’

‘Is that you, Don?’ my grandfather asked.

‘Yes.’

‘Good, now I can rest.’”

The very next day, my father’s grandfather passed away.

If I look at things on the bright side, maybe I’ll see that it is my father’s luck that has been passed down to me somehow, not his own dances with death. But at this point, even luck doesn’t seem to explain how mathematically impossible my birth was, how my father, if he would have been an inch closer to the left, would have had a bullet in his head; how if he would have said yes that night, he probably would have died along with his classmate in that accident.  

As fate would have it, he survived. Through all of it. He survived the Vietnam War. He survived his Legionnaire’s disease. And, somehow, I am here. He is still alive, too, and I am writing this to tell you that you certainly have a purpose. You may not see it now, and you may not fully ever see it if I’m being honest, but it is my opinion that the events in our life are expertly coordinated to shape us into the individuals we are today. People flow into and out of our lives for a reason, just as things happen to us for a reason. All of it culminates towards something, but what is that something? That something is what we will explore later in this book.

We do have choice. We do have freedom. Which may seem paradoxical to what I just said, but think of it this way. We have the ability to choose what path we go down, but we don’t have the ability to choose the consequences. That is what faith is for. That is why we need to have faith, and if we live by faith, we realize that all the choices we need to make are already made for us, we just have to be brave enough to walk down that road and see where it leads.

And that is why, as I continue talking about my life and those instances that have shaped my life, you’ll begin to understand just how this purpose we have in life is linked to a higher spiritual consciousness of ourselves. For there are things, like in my father’s words, we cannot explain sometimes. There are moments where this infinite world that we live in seems so small, but other moments where it seems so gigantically enormous that it threatens to swallow us whole in the sea of missed opportunities, unrealistic expectations, failure to recognize potential, and the obsession of materialism that has corroded our society.

What did you think of the chapter? Would you like to know more about its progress? If so, make sure you sign up for my newsletter. Happy Father’s Day everyone. Make sure you let your fathers know how proud you are of them on this special day. 

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