He shrugged, “It was okay.”
His son glanced at him. “They don't make 'em like they used to, eh dad?”
“Oh, no,” he answered without hesitation. “Most of 'em are a helluva lot better these days. The special effects are really something.”
“The CGI?” his grandson asked.
His son nodded and his grandson looked confused. “Hitchcock?”
“The Birds. Psycho,” the old man replied.
“Oh, yeah,” his grandson responded, his eyebrows lifting in acknowledgment.
Their conversation ended when they reached their car in the darkened parking lot. The old man climbed into the backseat of his son's SUV and buckled up. His son and grandson sat up front. They drove almost half way home before his grandson twisted in the confines of his shoulder belt and threw is arm over the seat back. “Why'd you jump up, gramps?” he asked.
The old man's features screwed up in consternation.
“During the movie,” his grandson added.
“Oh,” he said as he remembered the event. “They were playing the anthem,” he replied.
“But, it was just a part of the movie,” his grandson pointed out.
The old man grunted and looked at the traffic beside them.
“I just reacted,” the old man confessed. “That's all.”
“Reacted? To what?”
“When I was in the Army,” he explained, “every movie at the post theater began with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. We all had to jump to our feet and stand at attention. Even the dependents.”
“Why did they do that?”
The old man rolled his shoulders and twisted his body into a different position. He looked out the window.
“Did I say something wrong?” his grandson persisted.
The old man took a deep breath and allowed it to escape slowly. His shoulders relaxed and he looked at his grandson. “I'm sorry,” he said at last.
“Sorry?” his grandson responded. “For what?”
“I've let you down,” the old man said. “I should have taught you and your father better.”
“Taught us what?”
“Patriotism,” the old man explained and his grandson snickered at the word.
“That's sort of old fashioned, gramps,” the young man said. “We don't do that anymore.”
“I know,” the old man responded. “We were ashamed to show our patriotism when we got back from Nam.”
The old man's eyes focused on a time long ago and far away. He felt the anger rising in him as memories marched past. Faces full of rage exploded in front of him, screaming insults. People pushing and shoving. Something splashed on his uniform. Was it paint or pigs blood? They used both. Calls to his parent's home while he was in Vietnam. Fake letters of condolence announcing his death in the war.
Anger gave way to shame as he remembered how he had hidden his uniform, let his hair grow long, and how he joined the ranks of the antiwar protesters, trying to fit in. Lose himself in the crowd.
Only later did they learn that they had defeated the invaders. The North Vietnamese leaders admitted that their revolution had failed, that Tet was a demoralizing defeat. They were astonished when the American press announced that the Viet Cong had won. Won? They were destroyed. They had ceased to exist. Then, when Nixon was elected and took the war to their homeland, they were driven to the peace tables and sued for an armistice. Only later, the Americans withdrew and gave them South Vietnam on a platter.
The old man remembered his buddies who had died for nothing. They had won the victory only to have the politicians surrender. And there were his friends among the South Vietnamese who had been murdered in “re-education camps” by the Communists. What had Jane Fonda said? Oh yeah, if only we knew what Communism was all about, we'd fall to our knees and pray to be Communists.
The old man chuckled to himself as the irony of Fonda's pronouncement swept over him. Pray to be a Communist? They didn't allow prayer.
His grandson waited. His eyes narrowed when his grandfather chuckled to himself. “Gramps?”
“Sorry,” the old man replied. “I was lost in my thoughts for a moment.”
He smiled at his grandson and added, “That happens a lot when you get older.”
“What were you thinking about?” his grandson asked as the SUV pulled into his driveway.
“You coming to breakfast in the morning?” the old man asked.
“Sure, Dad,” his son answered, “wouldn't miss it.”
“Okay,” the old man said as he unfastened his seat belt and climbed out. “We'll talk about it then.”
They waited until he was inside and backed out of the driveway to head home.