This is not my typical Veteran’s biography, but it is a special piece about a daughter of a Vietnam Veteran. Her father served as a battalion surgeon near Phu Bai in Northern I Corps South Vietnam. In her exploration of his time in Vietnam, she learned many things that she never knew about her Dad. Her book highlights his heroism, his dedication and his love of fellow man and family. Lucia’s work is a work of love between father and daughter that increased with each piece of his life that she uncovered.
Lucia Viti is a writer who was born in Brooklyn and bred in the Bronx section of New York. She spent over twenty years in New York as both a copywriter and program director in marketing, advertising and public relations in the health and wellness profession. She earned a BS in Journalism from the University of West Virginia and was on her way to San Diego to pursue a career in publishing. Lucia has also worked as a certified fitness professional in group exercise and personal training for thirty years and continues to write for health and wellness trade journals and publications. Her Sweet Kitties calendars demonstrate her passion for photography and cats. When not writing, taking pictures, teaching, and running along the majestic Pacific near her home in Carlsbad, California, Ms. Viti shares a happy home with her significant other and their brood of Bengals.
I met Lucia through an e-mail she had sent asking me about an orphanage that I support in Vietnam. She had heard stories from her father about an orphanage near his base in Phu Bai. She is currently compiling stories from Daughters of Vietnam Veterans for a new book - a sequel to her book, Dr. Tom’s War – A Daughter’s Journey.
Lucia’s father was a physician who served as a Battalion Surgeon in Vietnam. Although she understood the existence of the Vietnam War, she was only 6 years old at the time of her father’s two-year deployment to Vietnam. “I recognized that the Vietnam War was “political” and discussions were kept within the inner family circle”, Lucia tells. She recalls visiting him at St. Alban’s Naval Base (no longer in existence) located in Queens, NY during his second year of deployment and recalls a CBS news television interview, although in 1968 CBS reused and tapes destroyed. “The Vietnam War was a topic not openly discussed upon his arrival home, therefore Dr. Tom and his Vietnam experience quietly became history. And yet today, I know more than I ever imagined I would. I researched the Vietnam War for four years before placing pen to paper.”
In 1982, her father was awarded the New York State Conspicuous Service Medal in Albany, New York. Despite the entire family attending a HUGE ceremony in his honor, again there was little discussion about his service. Even the accolades from the Congressional Record didn’t incite him into discussion – his humility didn’t allow it. Her father was not one to self grandstand. Although he was proud of his life as a physician serving the Bronx community; Madison Square House Doctor; team physician for the New York Rangers, and assistant to the New York Knicks; he did so with an attitude that screamed, “No biggie!” Dr. Tom was the forever jovial optimist who lived life abundantly with and for everyone else. There was no room for Vietnam in day-to-day discussions. “I also sense that negative and sad conversations were off-limits with me, his one and only “Jellybean Girl””, Lucia recalls.
“I also believe that Dr. Tom, along with America’s Vietnam Veterans were not welcome to discuss the taboos of the Vietnam War – the “dirty war” described by most Americans as a war lost by its military.” Although she knew little then, today, Lucia understands that Vietnam was a special place for Dr. Tom. Within the ravages of the Vietnam War, Dr. Tom remained on a quest to practice medicine for the sheer sake of medicine, to pursue his talent as a physician and his never-ending quest to aid those in need. Dr. Tom didn’t want to leave ‘Nam and regrettably left to complete his tour of duty in the States. Lucia senses that his 32 year-old bride and mother of four complained of the chance of losing her husband. (Dr. Tom could have deferred his deployment as a father of four, but felt the need/desire to repay America for giving his Italian Immigrant family the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. Items in a box that her mother kept included hand-written notes concerning his worry of 2/5 during the battle at Hue City (during the Tet offensive) – for it was 2/5 that won back the city’s Citadel. He wished he could have been there to “save even more lives.”
“My depth of understanding of the Vietnam War would not be revealed until I began the journey of writing of Dr. Tom’s War. While cleaning the attic in 2001, more than 20-years after his passing, Lucia had stumbled upon a box containing her father’s Viet Nam memorabilia, the contents of which left her breathless, for nothing that she discovered was anything that she had ever known. The contents included his medals – The Bronze Star with a Combat V; Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry; Vietnamese Medal of Honor; 2 Presidential Unit Citations; A National Defense Medal; Vietnam Service Medal with a Fleet Marine Corpsman Insignia; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal; Conspicuous Service Medal from the State of New York; The Congressional Medal. Also – letters written to him that covered the gambit from America to Vietnam – American Generals, Navy Admirals, and Commandants to Dignitaries and Hospital Care from The Republic of South Vietnam. Also – articles and letters written to my mom and to him from others, as well as his orders, official US Navy photographs, pictures and boxes of slides. “I was thrilled at the slides because they were in GREAT shape, affording the prints to follow suit.” Also - Marine Newspaper and Magazine Clippings as well as clipping’s of the New York Times article, his resume, citations, ceremonial billfolds – it was an amazing collection that caused the hair on the back of her neck to stand at attention. There was little doubt that Lucia had to share her discovery with the world.
From the pieces gathered from this treasure trove, Lucia traveled America to interview 2/5 Marines who stood alongside “Dr. Tom.” It began with a posting on the Second Battalion, Fifth Marine website. The response was so overwhelming and immediate, her email completely failed. Telephone and cyberspace discussions determined who would be included as a chapter to present a cohesive series of stories depicting the tenure of Dr. Tom in Vietnam. “I also researched military documents for contacts, but I share with you that everyone I spoke to, regardless of rank or the nature of the relationship, was willing to share the names/numbers of their fellow comrades”, Lucia remembers. These men welcomed the opportunity to honor their Battalion Surgeon. She easily gathered quips and quotes from the men who knew him best. Dr. Tom’s War is a narrative memoir that depicts her unique journey of discovery, not only of her father’s life as a Battalion Surgeon in one of America’s most controversial wars, but for the many 2/5 Marines stationed in Viet Nam – a silent majority of men willing to share their untold stories.
“My writing is a deeply personal tribute to my father, Dr. Tom.” Although he, unlike most physicians, spent more time in the "bush" than his fellow officers preferred, his dealings with most were short, concise and medical. The book includes a series of stories from 2/5 combat Marine veterans who shared this experience. Chapters are separated by a personal narrative ‘Dear Daddy Chapter’ that bridges her present voice to the memories of 1967. “My voice, albeit small, introduces the courageous men who fought to protect America.”
Lucia relates that” The Vietnam War was never discussed in high school and was a blurb in college. Now I stand center stage to offer readers a birds-eye-view into a Marine Corps and Fleet Marine Force Corpsmen brotherhood from the voices of the young men following in their father’s footsteps, the World War II heroes of the greatest generation.” She provides a first-hand perspective on combat life ‘in-country’ during 1967. Dr. Tom’s War not only appeals to veterans, it attracts an audience hesitant to embrace a military read. This work is for every family member associated with the thousands of Viet Nam veterans. “Through style and prose, I offer my generation of Viet Nam Veteran children, those too young to understand what was happening in 1967 and too old to have studied the Viet Nam War in college, an understanding of what these men sacrificed in their own words. I’m a child among many who remained silent while their fathers were described as “baby killers fighting a dirty war.” This scrapbook remains a testament of love to every father who fought to protect America from Communism”, the author shares.
“I NEVER EVER knew how brave my father was; EVER. Vietnam’s Dr. Tom was truly fearless. My father’s sense of humor was well known – but I think many family members and friends were shocked to discover the depth of his bravery.” His well-documented escapades include “borrowing” a General’s helicopter to gather wounded; running across a mine-field (without knowing where a single mine lay) to save a patient; travelling into the bush to the dismay of his superiors with a VC-imposed bounty on his head for his capture; caring for the wounded under a mortar attack on July 4th (the evening events that remain the reason for his Combat Star with a Combat V); massaging the heart of a dying Marine while under mortar fire; and serving the Vietnamese civilian populous on numerous MEDCaps in order to change “hearts and minds” proving that the Marines were in Vietnam to help, not colonize the people. But above all, Dr. Tom proudly served his Marines, his men, his sons. Dr. Tom held the title of Battalion Surgeon but bore the heart of a field corpsman.
Lucia never knew any of this. Hearing story after story was at times strange. In awe, she asked herself, “Is this man my father?”
You ask “How did those conversations alter your feelings /memories/appreciation of him?”
Lucia never thought it possible but it made her appreciate, love and miss him more than ever. Her opening Dear Daddy Chapters says it best:
“Thinking that I could reconnect and you give you life, I decided to create my Hollywood Field of Dreams. I built this so you would come and ease my pain. And the news is good for I went the distance. But truth be known, I’ve resembled more Forrest Gump than Shoeless Joe Jackson. I thought – in my hero as father naiveté – that I could explore that war – discover everyone’s favorite “Doc” and magically fill the void of your absence. Although my efforts to resuscitate you were successful, the hole in my heart is now bigger than ever. Dear Lord, what was I thinking?”
“So today, Daddy, I’ve decided to surrender my Vietnam passage to a higher purpose. I believe that my gatherings were pre-ordained, by you, to allow those willing to share a cathartic healing. My diligence in the study of Vietnam – although impressive – mattered little. My ability to listen patiently, sans judgment mattered most. You served as the common denominator and I as the conduit. I really was Forrest Gump and you were my “best good friend.”
On Father’s Day, she asked, “What would she tell him today, Father’s Day, if he were still alive?”
“Besides the fact that I love him and miss him as much today, I would share with him how very, very proud I am of him.” A paragraph from her closing Dear Daddy Chapter –
“Daddy, Dr. Tom’s War is a testament of my love to you. These pages, fueled by determination, endurance and resolve capture the courage, fortitude, and bravery of you and yours in this place called Vietnam. I’m so very proud of 2/5’s Dr. Tom and immensely grateful that the stars aligned with the heavens to afford me the privilege of calling you Pops.”
Dr. Tom’s War – A Daughter’s Journey is published by Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company and can be ordered on Amazon.com; in both hard copy and eBook; Barnes & Noble as a hard copy or Nook. Booksellers and libraries can purchase copies through Follett Library Resources and Ingram. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.