Uncle Jimmy

Uncle Jimmy

A Story by CC
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An essay about my Uncle's experience as a Marine in the Vietnam War.

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James Michael Cain appears to the unknown eye as a scruffy mountain man. From his full, untrimmed beard, to the hard earned calluses on his hands, and even down to the dirt stained, holey Levi’s he’ll wear till he dies. At the ripe age of 60, James, more often known as Jimmy, is anything but old. With a solid look into his warm chocolate eyes, I am reminded who he really is underneath his almost perfected mask. When he laughs, I can’t help but join regardless of the topic. It’s hearty and comforting, filled with sincerity. But laughter seems to be the only portal into this man’s soul. The majority of the time he remains closed off, affectionate but does it with minimum emotion. Fortunately, I am blessed to be allowed to experience the maximum of his minimum, for I am his niece.

Growing up, I have heard more about my Uncle’s military experience through my father rather than my Uncle. A few stories shared here and there, the only knowledge that I’ve kept in my memories are that he was a Marine, he fought in the Vietnam War, and I have a vague amount of information about how he used a German Shepherd to search caves, holes, etc. for enemy soldiers.  I’ve never had the opportunity to ask him about those experiences until a recent school assignment required me to do so. I was thankful for it; I have always been interested but never had a reason to bring it up. Hence, I had no idea how boundary breaking of a subject it would be.

I began the interview on the military with simple questions. I thought to myself, this will be a breeze. I asked him how old he was when he enlisted and why. Easy enough, he replied, “17, I wasn’t going to go to jail or reform school so this was my only other option”. It became clear that this wasn’t really his choice at all but he wouldn’t have been anything other than a Marine. It was a family tradition. “I would’ve been kicked out of the family if I went into the Army or the Navy”, he honestly stated. I continued to the next question about his training. He said he had basic training in San Diego, California, advanced military training in Oceanside, California, and demolition school in Quantico, Virginia. “In demolition school they taught us how to blow things up…not much training at all”, he said with a distant

gaze. I was beginning to see my Uncle unravel his tightly wound protective ropes he had worn for 42 years. He then continued to say that he wasn’t put into the war until he was 18. I have learned from my history classes that the year of training which soldiers like my Uncle had received, would never prepare them for what they would soon be thrown into. I gave him a respectful pause so that he could gather his thoughts and asked what his rank was and how he achieved it. He replied, “Sergeant E5…”, and very seriously added, “…the guy before me had been killed so I was moved up”.  Slowly, he was consciously readying himself for the upcoming question. I was completely naïve of the effect it would take.

“My dad has mentioned you worked with a dog in the war, how did that process work?”, I asked.  I expected his answer to be as simple as the others previously asked. Instead, his usually youthful eyes were now welled up with tears. I could see him fighting them back and could almost hear him yelling, “hold it in, hold it in”, in his head. The only words he was able to get out were, “Well, she was good for sniffing out booby traps”, referring to his German Shepherd partner.  I didn’t have the heart to push him any further than that. I was shocked at how he had reacted and refused to ask him to explain. 

I now have a new level of respect and pride in my Uncle Jimmy, for obviously his service for our country, but also for being so strong about it. I’ve heard of so many different cases about Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome that countless veterans have once they return home. I’ve never seen a trace of that in my Uncle, hallelujah. He’s a kind and exceptionally strong man, but as that interview unwillingly exposed, he is also sensitive. And if possible, I love him now even more because of it.

© 2010 CC


Author's Note

CC
This was just for an assignment last year in my Comm. class, but I'm quite proud of the way it turned out so I decided to post it on here. Thanks for reviewing.

Chao!
-CC

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Added on October 30, 2010
Last Updated on October 30, 2010
Tags: Marines, war, Vietnam, uncle, german shepherd, dogs, military

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About
My love of reading progressed into a love of writing at a very young age, about 7. I'm just a "word person", I suck with numbers. Chao! more..

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