Our generation owes mothers a hug

When I see young people in Ho Chi Minh City enlist for military service, I feel a great sense of pride. 
Illustrative photo.
Illustrative photo.

These young boys and girls are so smart and vivacious, and look radiant in their brand new green military uniforms. They are tall, handsome, full of energy, and more educated than we were. These young people bid farewell to their parents, lovers, and friends, so as to proudly wear the colors of the flag and make their country proud.

Looking at such scenes, we, who are the veterans of the war with the US, cannot help but reminisce about the day we enlisted in the army more than 40 years ago. We are still moved with patriotism, even though we were not as good and strong as the young people of today.

At that time, in the 1970s, we were simple rural youth, who did not know the correct ways of communication when meeting people, such as shaking hands, high fives, hugging, kissing, and even waving like today's young people do normally. In those days, openly expressing affection in public was taboo, or even men and women shaking hands was unacceptable, and hugging another person was considered shocking behavior. Men and women who loved each other only dared to just hold hands in private, in our generation.

On the day of enlistment, we hardly had time to spend with our mothers. From the night before our enlistment day, mothers and sisters were busy in the kitchen cooking a variety of dishes, making tea for guests, and looking after their children, so they did not have time to talk about their feelings, and rather were prepared to stay silent and not say anything. Teaching things like fighting zeal, unity, and military discipline were considered a big deal, and only fathers and uncles in the family had the right to say anything.

I still remember, on a cold winter morning in 1972, I said good bye to my father and brothers but could only say to my mother, "Mom, I'm going", and then I went out to the communal house to join the others. I walked quickly without looking back for fear of seeing my mother's tears, as my mother had already seen three sons go one by one to the battlefield.

At that time, the whole commune recruited more than 50 brothers, of which half were high school students who rushed to supplement the heavy demand on the battlefield after Quảng Trị 1971 and the Southeast region lacked a main force. All of us, armed and unarmed, walked more than 3 kms to the Red River to gather with other communes on the other side of the river. Due to military secrecy requirements, people and family members were not allowed to see us off.

When we started to line up to get off the boat, more than a dozen mothers suddenly emerged from the cornfield taller than their heads. Mothers ran and waved their hands in the sky and then hit themselves shouting, "Children, please go, but remember to stay healthy". Sometimes a mother fell down because she was busy looking at her child, and tripped over a mound of mud on the field.

In those days, there was no TV or movies that taught us how to shake the wrist back and forth as skillfully as it is now. The way mothers constantly raise and lower their hands is a gesture of waving goodbye to their children. It's the weirdest wave in the world that I believe should not exist. Later, I and many other of my teammates once again encountered this type of waving and falling on the way to the South.

After the training period, our battalion was ordered to the Southern parts of the country. We received orders at midnight, immediately marched to Thường Tín train station, and then went to the Southeast. Because of the surprise, no one could write a letter home in time, so when they got on the train, everyone took advantage of tearing up a piece of paper from a notebook, and quickly writing a few lines with the recipient's address.

When the train passed where there were girls, sisters, and mothers gathered to work in the fields, we threw that piece of paper down through the door of the train. These pieces of paper were thrown out and flew around like butterflies, falling along the hull of the train and the rice fields. Mothers and sisters ran after the train and kept raising their hands up and down in the air, shouting "children, remember to come back". Mothers ran fast and slow, crying, shouting and falling, tearful and sad.

The soldiers looked at that scene and all of them burst into tears. The soldiers wrote for good luck, and seeing one writing, the other wrote as a consolation that they had informed their parents. However, the strange thing is that all the small, fragile pieces of paper covered in mud arrived at the houses. Grandmothers, mothers, and sisters collected all these precious pieces of paper and brought them to the post office. The brothers and sisters at the post office worked hard to dry, flatten them, put them in envelopes, stamp them and send them without missing a single letter.

Later, when we returned to our hometown, many of us saw our letters placed on the altar of our ancestors in the middle of the house. Some of us, almost two-thirds of us, would never return home again. At that time in the North, there were soldiers in every family. All soldiers at that time were considered children, brothers, and grandchildren in the family.

Today, we soldiers of that day have turned 70 years old, and no one has a mother anymore. Like all children in this world, we also love our mother very much. Even though our mother's teeth are black, or crooked, or her clothes are tattered, or her face is pale from hunger, they are our beloved mothers. It is as natural to love our mothers as we love our country.

There are many regrets in human life, and one of them is that we never hugged our mother tightly and said "Mom and Dad, we love you so much.”

Our generation was like that, very rustic, clumsy, a bit stupid, and did not know how to show their love to their parents, even to their girlfriends, but we were very honest with our feelings. Our generation owes mothers a hug but sadly we will never be able to hug them again.

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