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

Updated on October 13, 2017
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 35 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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    • Edward J. Palumbo profile imageAUTHOR

      Ed Palumbo 

      2 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      Thank you for your comment, Angie. I write so infrequently that I have little to offer to compile into a book. There are topics I candidly avoid or prefer not to dwell upon because others have expressed them so well. My wartime experiences pale in comparison to those of close friends, and Life has been good to me, but some of the lessons were not lost on me. I'm reminded of the comment, "Too soon we grow old, too late we grow smart" and I fit that description well. I hope to come up with something worthy of publication but haven't done it yet. Thank you for the encouragement! If I do write it, you will promptly get a signed copy, and that's a promise.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Ed, your writing is superb. I have friends who fought in the Iraq War who, like yourself, went to war and came back physically unscathed but bore the trauma of being a witness to and participant of war. Your words are true and well-crafted; perhaps, someday, you can compile all your writings into one book, so more of the world can be honored with your gift of the written word but also your experiences.

    • Edward J. Palumbo profile imageAUTHOR

      Ed Palumbo 

      2 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      It appears the violence in some of these electronic games is much more graphic and intense as one scenario leads to another. The television fare we grew up with usually had a moral message (e.g., crime doesn't pay, do unto others, and there are consequences to bad behavior) I don't see that in what little I've seen and I agree that it is of no benefit to a developing mind. At the time I wrote this, it was my hope that neither of my children would be touched by war.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I'm sure those are the kinds of thoughts many parents have had, especially those who served in war, as my father did.

      Growing up it seemed as if we were always playing those games. Yes, we mimicked some of what we saw on television - cops & robbers, cowboys and Indians, playing games of war and even, in the early 60s, spy vs. spy. Our toy arms squirted water or fired caps as we played.

      But this play taught us things. Teamwork, friendship, conflict resolution and the importance of rules. Some of these lessons can be learned in other ways, of course, but I fear today's more solitary electronic socializing deprives children of these lessons.

    • Edward J. Palumbo profile imageAUTHOR

      Ed Palumbo 

      3 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      Grunt0311, Thank you for reading and commenting. I was a 2531 with respect for infantry. Salute from one Leatherneck to another.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Respect. I know exactly what you mean. Semper Fi.

      Bill C.

    • Edward J. Palumbo profile imageAUTHOR

      Ed Palumbo 

      5 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      aethelthryth, thank you for reading and commenting. I believe where and how we live is worth fighting for, and it would seem that situation gets more complicated with time as we deal with unconventional conflict, guerilla warfare and terrorism. Movies and the media will always provide children with the conflict of good versus evil, right versus wrong, courage over cowardice. It's a noble competition, but it is unbalanced by the random nature of warfare's violence. Good people, full of potential, often perish. In truth, I would do it again whenever needed...but I wanted something better, something different for my children. There are a great many ways to contribute to our society, and I hoped they would find other ways. I will never regret being a Marine or the opportunity to work some extraordinary men and women, but I did not want my son or daughter to follow closely in my footsteps so I've always been candid with them. No, it's not a game. My son served 5 years in the U.S. Navy and was honorably discharged, but he moved on to a career path in law enforcement. One could say he is still in harm's way. My daughter is an elementary teacher with a gift for working with children. Whatever the war, there is an understanding and respect between generations of warriors. I am grateful to those who've gone before me, and those who continue to serve. No rational human being, especially one who has already been exposed to it, wants war...but it is often thrust upon us, so we'll always need courageous, principled, physically fit, well-trained young men and women to deal with it. We have witnessed conflicts that were militarily well conducted but politically mismanaged, and I find that repugnant. But that's a topic for another Hub. Continued success in your pursuit of military history, and I hope to read more your work.

    • aethelthryth profile image


      5 years ago from American Southwest

      I wrote about Iwo Jima because I am afraid many younger people don't see that anything is worth fighting for. But "my" WWII vet, Bill Hudson, was very insistent about also pointing out to young men that war is very destructive to young men,and it is not what they think from movies. Having boys of my own now, I doubt it is possible to keep boys from making a game of war, but I am trying to teach them as they grow that men have to be prepared for war while understanding it is not something to wish for.

    • Edward J. Palumbo profile imageAUTHOR

      Ed Palumbo 

      5 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      Thank you, rdsparrowriter, I have been blessed with a beautiful family and an eventful life!

    • rdsparrowriter profile image

      Rochelle Ann De Zoysa 

      5 years ago from Moratuwa, Sri Lanka

      It's interesting and your poem is touching. God bless you!!

    • Edward J. Palumbo profile imageAUTHOR

      Ed Palumbo 

      7 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      You have my lasting respect for the grace with which you dealt with my clumsiness. Mr. Younkin, as you know, was one of our best and most trusted officers. Know that he will never be forgotten, and we remember and discuss him when we get together (at least once a year). I apologize for losing your address, but I am happy you found me. Please convey my best wishes for academic success to your daughter, and tell her that when my brothers and I were her age (19-20), her father was one of our heroes. That hasn't changed with time. Every blessing to you and your family in this New Year of 2014.

    • profile image

      Joanne Younkin Stanway 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for remembering Burrows T. Younkin, Jr. I still have the card you sent me after he passed away. Our daughter (who never met her dad) is almost 19 and in college.

    • Edward J. Palumbo profile imageAUTHOR

      Ed Palumbo 

      7 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      Denise, I'd have to ask my wife and children to cast a vote on that, but I'm very pleased with the adults my daughter (27) and son (22) have become. My son is on active duty in the U.S. Navy at this time and recently completing his second deployment to the Gulf.

    • profile image

      Denise W. 

      7 years ago

      I'd bet this man is a great father.

    • profile image

      Gunnar N. Carlson 

      7 years ago

      This post hits home for me. Being a father of two great son's and having also served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam I can fully relate to the emotion and heartfelt caring brought forth in this fine piece of writing. Bit of a tear jerker for me. All I can say is well done Marine, and Semper Fi.

    • Edward J. Palumbo profile imageAUTHOR

      Ed Palumbo 

      7 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      This was written for my son, Daniel, and for brother Marines...Mike Romanchuk, Harry E. Oxford, Angel Mendez, and for others we've since lost along the way, Burrows T. Younkin, Myron A. Truesell, SSgt. Lawhon. We will never forget them.


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