On the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, Sons and Daughters In Touch looks back on its ‘Open Letter’ to the children who lost parents on that day.
Based on the life experiences of Sons and Daughters In Touch America’s Gold Star ‘sons and daughters’ from the Vietnam War.
November 2001: An Open Letter to the Children who lost a parent in the Terrorist Attacks on America
In the aftermath of the attack on America, scores of relief agencies mobilized to aid the victims of this unspeakable act of war.
Among the most haunting questions was: “What will happen to the children who lost their parents in the attacks?” For the past 12 years, Sons and Daughters In Touch (SDIT) has been addressing that very question for the now-grown children of American servicemen lost during the Vietnam War.
The question then was, “What is it like to have lost your father in the Vietnam War?” And now, “What is it like to have lost your parent in the attack on America?” Unfortunately, the issue of “children victims” has been the focus of limited national research. Instead, much of what is known about the healing process for the children of Vietnam losses has come to light through the efforts of Sons & Daughters In Touch (SDIT). Formed in 1989 by some of these “children,” SDIT is a national support organization for more than 5,000 of the untold number of ‘sons and daughters’ left fatherless by the Vietnam War.
Together, we have peered into the past, shared our experiences, and established an ongoing legacy of learning, honor and remembrance. And in the midst of that has come hope and healing.
With a foundation based in the hard-earned life experiences of its members, SDIT offers the following insights which we hope can be a comfort and guide:
“A final good-bye…” Sadly, in those cases where your parents’ remains were not recovered, a lifelong sense of disbelief may exist.
Though it was impossible to achieve under these circumstances, the value of a tangible and visual “good-bye” cannot be underestimated. SDIT has learned from similar cases (primarily those in which a loved one was listed as Prisoner of War or Missing in Action and is still unaccounted for), that the reality of the loss will be tempered by the understandable question, “…are you sure?”
Without some form of closure, you may find yourself imagining that Mom or Dad might someday walk into the room, or be there to pick you up after school. That is normal and expected. Fortunately, time and reason are sound cures.
Over the years, you will come to accept the loss of your parents as a tragically-heroic badge of honor.
“Get over it” Don’t ever allow anyone to demand this of you. The process of grieving and healing is a unique and often lengthy process. The simple reality is that one never ‘gets over’ such a loss.
For a lifetime, this tragedy will be a seminal moment in your life. Every stage and milestone in life will now be different. As a teenager, an adult, a parent and a grandparent; at 30, 40, 50 and older ages, your life will be different than it would have been had you not experienced this loss. One never truly “gets over it”.
Let acceptance be your destination…and know that your arrival at this goal might take a long time.
“A time and place” As you come to accept your loss, it will be helpful to have a special time and place for remembering your parent. You may choose to do that alone, within your immediate family, with friends, or with the greater family of those who experienced a similar loss.
For many SDIT members, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial “Wall” in Washington, DC, became a place of solace and healing. For you, perhaps a national memorial that has yet to be established, or one in your community, will serve that purpose. You might also seek a day that permits public celebration of your parents’ life. For us, Father’s Day affords that opportunity (and these national tributes have served as the building blocks to help extend the healing to new sons and daughters).
Should you choose to wait until adulthood before reaching out to others who endured a similar experience, do not be afraid. Most members of SDIT were in their 20’s and 30’s before taking the same steps. Some of you will openly embrace this common bond and actively nurture it. Others will reject it. Know that participation and interaction is a choice, not an obligation. And that you may benefit from more or less interaction at different times in your life.
“The benchmark” Perhaps the most significant milestone for the members of SDIT was the time in life when they outlived their fathers. War’s cruelty dictated that some of our members outlived their fathers at 19 or 20. For others it was 25, 30 or 35, but it brought with it questions about how to live our lives without the benchmark that Dad represented.
This same milestone will exist for you. Reaching this milestone will signal a venture into uncharted waters filled with questions. “Is this the way adulthood really is?” “Can I ever accomplish as much as they did?” “How would mom or dad advise me in this challenging situation?” The answers to these questions can be found through discovering just who your mom or dad was.
Ask questions of family and friends, keep pictures and mementos, and attend your parents’ class reunions. The knowledge and understanding – and possibly friends – you’ll gain will help you to hear your parent’s voice and inherit their intuition.
Finally, while it’s impossible to document the myriad lessons we’ve learned here, we extend an offer to help however possible. As you organize, and as you heal, let us know how we can help. In the meantime, our hearts and prayers are with you.
Sons and Daughters In Touch
[Sons and Daughters In Touch is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization committed to locating and uniting the Gold Star “sons and daughters” of American servicemen lost in the Vietnam War.]