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Published on June 16, 2020

Son’s military experience helps to explain dad’s decisions

By Chuck Yarborough
Special to The Bulletin

My father, Charles Arnett Yarborough, did three tours in Vietnam, earning 28 air medals, three bronze stars (with V for valor devices), a DFC and multiple Army Commendation medals. He retired after 28 years and passed away of cancer in 1999.

When I was a boy, I couldn’t understand why he volunteered for his second and third tours, how he could leave his family, very possibly forever. For his last tour, 1969-70, he said he went so someone else wouldn’t have to. He also used to joke that “Vietnam is not much of a war, but it’s the only one we have.”

I never truly understood the reality of it … until I went to Iraq in 2004 as an embedded reporter. I was only there for a couple of months, but I spent the rest of my journalism career trying to get back to soldiers.

I’m not trying to romanticize war. It’s not glorious or John Wayne BS. It’s bloody, scary, dirty, sometimes exciting, sometimes boring. Screams are real. Tears are real. Fear is real. But there is something about being surrounded by soldiers that makes you feel like you are at home.

When I was 45, my paper sent me to Fort Sill for an abbreviated Basic Combat Training, i.e. boot camp. I did it all, from bayonet training to M16 qualification to grenade training, which was my only black mark. I was afraid to “cook off”’ the grenade because I worried I might lose my typing fingers and thus my livelihood.

I did the ruck marches, the Victory Tower, the FTX to the end and the dreaded gas chamber. The brigade and battalion commanders joined us, having a good ol’ time with “Private Wannabe” (dubbed so by the drill sergeants), as I coughed and puked.

That time at Fort Sill and my short time in Iraq were the best times of my life.

I get it now, Dad. I get it.

(Chuck Yarborough, a 1978 graduate of San Jacinto College South in Pasadena, is a native Texan and the son, grandson, father and uncle of soldiers. Currently a freelance writer, he spent 42 years in newspapers, including the Baytown Sun, Houston Chronicle and most recently The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. Contact him in care of The Bulletin at john.bulletin@gmail.com, or send letters to The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)