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Child's Play - A Veteran's Hope for His Young Son

Updated on December 18, 2021
My son and I - 1997
My son and I - 1997 | Source


As a U.S. Marine, I served with some fine young men of 1st Marine Division ground forces in South Viet Nam in 1966-67, in what would prove a very educational experience and the root of lifelong friendships. I would return to the Corps as a reservist, and I remain lastingly thankful for my brother and sister Marines. It would take years to put some of those lessons and memories in perspective.

I married Tammy, a remarkable young woman, in 1982. My beautiful daughter was born in 1986, and my son arrived in 1991. As a young fellow, I wanted adventure and self-definition. As a younger parent, I naturally wanted the best for my family, and very little of that has changed over time.

I look at my daughter and see the intelligence, humor and sense of adventure that I see in my lovely wife of 39 years. In my son, who has completed a 5-year enlistment as a young petty officer in the U.S. Navy, I see some of the energy, gregarious mischief, loyalty to friends, occasional intensity, and other traits that remind me of another young man years ago. My wife and children remain the best parts of my life.

When we relocated to this community, we explored the new features, the parks and playgrounds. My daughter made new friends and enjoyed her time with them. My son and I wandered into a playground some distance away and this verse seemed to develop as I thought about our day.

Child's Play

I was watching at the playground as my young son climbed the bars,

And I thought to keep him safe from the rush of nearby cars,

So I watched and cheered him as he climbed, the peak within his reach,

But the sand beneath my shoes brought to mind a distant beach.

I refocused my attention on my seven year-old son,

and returned his wave of triumph when the summit he had won.

Three shouting boys distracted me, and I turned to watch their games,

They waved toy rifles in the air and called each other's names.

They were a little older than my son, but no more than nine or ten,

And armed with plastic weapons they fought bravely in the sand.

As they skirmished on the playground, rushing here and leaping there,

Innocently they played at war and dodged about the square,

But my amusement ended sharply when a child dropped to his knees,

And the boy's voice jarred my idle thoughts to other memories.

"I shot you, so you're dead!" cried one insistent lad,

But another argued back with all the strength he had,

"Not fair! Not fair! I shot you first! You can't shoot me instead!"

A third chimed in, "You cannot win. I shot you both! You're dead!"

And I can't explain the sadness that overcame me then,

I was a child like them, you see, and played with my young friends,

But before a decade passed we would grow to serve with pride;

We would go to southeast Asia, and there our childhood died.

Fueled by our idealism, great promises we made,

The arms we bore were toys no more, but tools to ply our trade.

Promises were kept and loved ones wept. It cannot be denied,

Not all who step into the flames emerge at the other side,

I'm thankful for the chance to serve my country and my Corps,

But it would surely break my heart to send my son to war.

From deep within, my heart cried out, "Please play some other game!

If child's play becomes reality, you'll never be the same."

But the words did not escape my lips. What child can understand?

Let this be play, not prophecy, and may God protect this land!

Isaiah's words came to my mind as the wind rushed through the trees,

Let swords be beaten into plowshares for the sake of such as these.

My son watched in amusement. "Can I play that game with you?"

"Come here, my son. We have to go; we've other chores to do."

I saw his look of disappointment. It seemed a splendid game to play.

I reached for him and stroked his hair, "Perhaps some other day."

So I wrapped my arms around him, lifted him and carefully stepped

From the playground and the battlefield, and quietly I wept.

My son looked up, as children will, and said in mild surprise,

"Are you crying, Dad? Why are you sad? Is something in your eyes?"

I smiled and tickled him, then said, "I must be catching cold."

"It's clear I'm not as young as you. I must be getting old!"

© 2013 Ed Palumbo


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