Capt. William A. Branch
The Greatest Man I Never Knew
In a black Army footlocker kept in the attic, the treasures of my artist father were found. His paintbrushes were brittle and decaying. His medals lay neatly in their presentation boxes. His pipes lined up like tired soldiers. There were musty letters, crumbling art gum erasers, black and white photos and inks drying up in colorful tubes. These were the poignant reminders that a creative soul had once lived in the midst of war and death. And I could not remember his smile.
I lived without him for the first half of my life. Vietnam was the word we only whispered. I was very small when he died on what was to be his last mission over Dau Tieng, a place I couldn't find on a map. I could not put to words, the angry images that filled my young heart. Twisted metal. Machine gun fire. A yellowed telegram. I longed to see my mother miss him, but I could not bear to ask her to go back. I had always known how he died. What I wanted was to know how he lived, and how he loved. I have spent my lifetime exploring his attic. This is the story of my search.
I drove up GA 400 at eighteen, and entered North Georgia College, the military school where my parents first met. I went on a scholarship named after him. I found that same name etched in stone on a memorial there and at once all my roads led to granite, shining and solid.
On campus, I saw his green uniform every day. I heard his deep voice call cadence through the mountains in the morning. I felt his presence in the proud sounds of taps each night. I found his drawings in the old yearbooks. Professors and alumni remembered him well. Creative spirit. Military bearing. "Hey little girl don't forget me." In dreams. In crowded rooms. In faded photos of my mother smiling...happier than I had ever seen. Boyd, Mitchiner, Scholes, Lord. These were the men who first outlined the man. This was the place that made me feel like my father's child.
Now I am meeting the men who were with him in Vietnam. Esler, Levy, Gorman, Shields. There are too many to name. They watched his back during combat. They touch his name in Washington.
They call him "the good captain." They tell me that he cared about his men. That his maps were detailed and amazing. That his artist's eye helped gather the intelligence others failed to see. Many say he's responsible for getting them home. They tell me of a decorated soldier and a wise leader. A man who honored life. Silver star, Bronze star, Purple hearts. They say he had good instinct, a quick wit. They say I can be proud.
The hero they remember is just a man though . . . an honorable man who loved my mother and my country deeply. Maybe that is what heroes are. The photos I have of him holding me are treasures. His loving letters to my mother are really gifts to me. Lessons on how a man should treat a woman. The day I heard his voice on reel-to-reel, it felt so soothing and soft. Like I had heard it a thousand times in my heart. Strange familiar. He loved this country enough to protect it. He loved me enough to leave me a legacy I can be proud of. As I outlive him, I am in awe of him . . . that quiet, creative man who was my father.
We buried him thirty years ago on June 19th at Fort Benning. Just a few years before the U.S. pulled out of Saigon. More than a decade before I watched the Berlin Wall crumble. This Father's Day, Mom and I will say goodbye together at The Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, with hundreds of other families affected by that war. Vietnam is not the word we will whisper anymore. Death kills only people, not relationships. Not legacies. Not heroes. Hello Dad, remember me? I will remember you.
1st Tour Photos: Advisory Team 99 2nd Bn 46th ARVN 66-67 in Duc Hoa
2nd Tour Photos: 2nd Bn 14th Inf, 25th Inf Div 69-70 in Dau Tieng
Details about the crash
Healing Links/ Site Awards
Places that remember Dad well... Memorials
There is much to be learned from war. Take a moment to sign in, speak your heart or pass on your story. Be proud and not sorry. If you are a veteran . . . welcome home. You answered the call my father also heard, and I thank you. Your memories of that long ago time and place are lessons. If you are a father, be a good one. Live a legacy your children can learn from . . . it is never too late. Sincerely, Jen
Freedom and life are precious gifts. This site is dedicated to all who have paid, to families choosing to heal, and to those who pass the lessons on.