A Trip To Vietnam Helped This Son Make Peace With His Dad's Death Robert Howard II grew up in Norwich, Conn., in the shadow of his father — a larger-than-life character in town — who fought in Vietnam, and was killed in action there in 1969.
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A Trip To Vietnam Helped This Son Make Peace With His Dad's Death

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A Trip To Vietnam Helped This Son Make Peace With His Dad's Death

A Trip To Vietnam Helped This Son Make Peace With His Dad's Death

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And that music is our cue for StoryCorps, where Americans talk about the events that have shaped their lives. Robert Howard grew up in Norwich, Conn., in the shadow of his father, a larger-than-life character who fought in Vietnam and was killed in action in 1969. When Robert came to StoryCorps with his mother, Roberta Vincent, he spoke about saying goodbye to his dad.

ROBERT HOWARD II: I was 4 at the time. And I remember not crying at the funeral.

ROBERTA VINCENT: I can't imagine that you even knew what was going on.

HOWARD II: I thought it was a magic show.

VINCENT: Really?

HOWARD II: Yeah. Seeing him, and then, when they draped the flag, all of sudden the casket's closed. I'm like, where did he go?

VINCENT: I remember you writing a paper about him in third grade, but the paper was written as if he was still here. So I remember sitting down, talking to you. And you cried. I cried.

HOWARD II: It kind of made me angry, especially coming from a small town where everybody knew my father but me. I just felt cheated.

VINCENT: I could see you were struggling, but I didn't know how to help you. And I would envision that God would take me and bring your dad back because, at that time, you needed him more.

HOWARD II: That's something you never told me, Ma. You know, I went through a lot of turmoil. And as I grew older, drugs were a way for me to escape. And I really didn't care whether I lived or died at that time. So I kind of put the blame on him. I used to say to myself, well, things would be different if you were here.

And then, I was sleeping one night. I was having a dream, and this dream was real vivid. There was a whole bunch of bodies on the ground, and I was looking for my father's body. And I know he was there, but I couldn't find him. So I think he was trying to wake me up then. And I knew I had to go to Vietnam for me to lay him to rest.

I used to wear a medallion that I had created with his picture etched in gold. I carried it around like it was a part of me. I never took it off. But when I got to Vietnam, that's when I took off the medallion. And when I took that chain off, I felt this sense of relief. I didn't have to carry him anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "FILING AWAY")

VINCENT: You certainly have walked in your dad's footsteps. You honor him daily. I know that he is proud, and I love you dearly.

HOWARD II: I love you too, Ma, and I thank you for sticking it out with me.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "FILING AWAY")

GREENE: That was Robert Howard II and his mom, Roberta Vincent, remembering his father, Army Sgt. Robert Louis Howard, who was killed in the Vietnam War. Robert II now has three sons of his own. Mother and son recorded their interview in Hartford, Conn., and it will be archived in the Library of Congress and also featured on the StoryCorps podcast.

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