O Captain! My Captain!

January 29, 2016


Dad Pham thinks his children are wusses who can't handle the tough life because we were spoiled by Australia's cushy lifestyle. He's right. But he wouldn't have it any other way. He and Mum Pham sacrificed a lot so we could live this sweet, blessed life where we're more likely to be killed by eating too much and exercising too little than malnutrition and labourious jobs.

Unlike his soft offspring, Dad Pham has lived through the worst part of humanity: WAR. Dad never spoke of the war when we were growing up. We knew Dad had been in the navy, and we knew he'd been a Prisoner of War before he left for Germany. We knew his late onset schizophrenia and PTSD were caused by the war. But we never knew the details.

It wasn't until Mum Pham passed away that Dad started reflecting on his life. I knew something had changed the day I came home from work about 6 months after the funeral and he was listening to Vietnamese rock'n'roll - music from the war era (think Forrest Gump soundtrack but Viet style) he hadn't listened to since we were born. From then he randomly dropped truth bombs about his life that blows my mind.
PCF or Swift Boat photo from Olive Drab

Dad Pham was a Captain (Serial No. 615702304) of Patrol Craft Fast (PCF-7936) like the ones pictured above in the Vietnam Navy (VNN). Funny how he can't remember what he had for breakfast or whether he had breakfast at al, but he can recite his navy serial number and boat number without thinking. He served in the VNN during the Vietnam War or as he calls it the American War in Vietnam because the war was driven and funded by the Americans - they were defeated when the U.S. withdrew their troops. But that's another story.

Dad's a naturally super-intelligent person. Big Brother Pham takes after him. They're both so smart they struggle with predictable, monotonous education systems. Neither did as well as they should have at school because they were bored and unmotivated. After high school, Dad Pham didn't know what to do with himself so he joined the navy. He says it was the best time of his life being in the navy; having purpose, being in and leading a band of brothers. He was a lone wolf as a child and now as an old man. His navy days is where he belonged in a community.

One day I was telling Dad I was really tired because I'd stayed up late into the night to do work, then had to wake up early to continue doing said work. Dad called me soft and casually told me back in his navy days he'd go without sleep because he had men to take care of and if he wasn't awake to respond to attacks then his men's' lives would be at stake. I didn't stop feeling exhausted but I did stop feeling sorry for myself.

Dad Pham told me about his most dangerous posting during the war. He was given a mission inland on the 'Radar Post' to a mountain side that overlooked the whole coastline. The Radar Post made sure no enemy could sneak up behind the troops and trap them in the bay. From this post, Dad's crew could see any and all ships moving North, South or approaching the battlegrounds. It was meant to be a 3 month posting and it more than doubled because he and his platoon proved too valuable. Day and night they were under threat of heavy gunfire and missiles. Dad can remember the sound and feeling of ammo and missiles flying past his head - the many close calls that would have meant no me, no Phamlings, no Phamly.

Under Dad's command, only one man lost part of his leg and no one was killed. The footless man found Dad Pham decades later in Australia and thanked him for saving his life. Dad's leadership changed a lot of people's lives over the years that followed the war. One day I'll tell you about his time in the P.O.W. 're-education' prison, how he helped strangers escape Vietnam and the Phams that now live in Europe thanks to Dad Pham.

Phamly History:
This is Part 1 - O Captain! My Captain! Dad Pham's navy days during the Vietnam War.
Part 2 - P.O.W. Viet Cong Re-education Camp Dad Pham's time as a prisoner of war.
Part 3 - Living with Viet Cong Mum Pham's experience with communism.
Part 4 - Boat People Dad Pham seeks refuge after the war.
Part 4 - Boat People Dad Pham seeks refuge after the war.
Part 5 - Finding Faith Dad finds peace.

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