A Trip To Vietnam Helped This Son Make Peace With His Dad’s Death


May 19, 20175:10 AM ET

Roberta Vincent with her son, Robert Howard II, at their StoryCorps interview in Hartford, Conn.

Courtesy of StoryCorps

Army Sgt. Robert Louis Howard was killed in action in 1969 during the Vietnam War. He was 24, and he left behind his ex-wife Roberta Vincent, and their 4-year-old son, Robert Howard II.

At the time of his dad’s death, Robert II didn’t quite understand what was happening around him.

“I remember not crying at the funeral,” he says. “I thought it was a magic show. Seeing him, and then, when they draped the flag, all of a sudden the casket is closed. I’m like, ‘Where did he go?’ ”

Vincent says it wasn’t until a few years later that Robert II understood that his dad was gone.

“I remember you writing a paper about him in third grade, but the paper was written as if he was still here,” Vincent says. “So I remember sitting down, talking to you, and you cried, I cried.”

Robert II says he felt cheated without his father there.

“It kind of made me angry, especially coming from a small town where everybody knew my father but me,” he says.

Vincent told her son she wasn’t sure she could help him.

“I could see you struggling, but I didn’t know how to help you,” she says. “I would envision that God would take me and bring your dad back, because, at that time, you needed him more.”

A picture from a local Connecticut newspaper of Robert Howard II accepting his father’s medals that were awarded posthumously the year of his death, while his mother Roberta Vincent looks on.

Courtesy of Roberta Vincent

Robert II says as he grew older he blamed a lot of the turmoil he went through on the fact that his father wasn’t around.

“As I grew older, drugs were a way for me to escape; and I really didn’t care whether I lived or died at that time,” he says. “I used to say to myself, ‘Well things would be different if you were here.’ ”

But, he knew what he needed to do to get closure about his father’s death after a dream one night.

“This dream was real vivid. There was a whole bunch of bodies on the ground and I was looking for my father’s body,” Robert II says. “I know he was there, but I couldn’t find him. So I think he was trying to wake me up then. And I knew I had to go to Vietnam for me to lay him to rest.”

Robert II did go to Vietnam and he took a medallion that has his father’s picture etched in gold.

“I carried it around like it was a part of me,” he says. “I never took it off. But, when I got to Vietnam, that’s when I took off the medallion. And when I took that chain off, I felt a sense of relief. I didn’t have to carry him anymore.”

Vincent says she knows Robert II’s dad is proud of his son.

“You certainly have walked in your dad’s footsteps. You honor him daily,” she says. “I love you dearly.”

Robert II, who now has three sons of his own, says he love his mother, too.

“Thank you for sticking it out with me,” he says.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

This entry was posted in Legacy of the War, Vietnam veterans (Non-vietnamese veterans of VN War), Vietnam War and tagged , by Trần Đình Hoành. Bookmark the permalink.

About Trần Đình Hoành

I am an attorney in the Washington DC area, with a Doctor of Law in the US, attended the master program at the National School of Administration of Việt Nam, and graduated from Sài Gòn University Law School. I aso studied philosophy at the School of Letters in Sài Gòn. I have worked as an anti-trust attorney for Federal Trade Commission and a litigator for a fortune-100 telecom company in Washington DC. I have taught law courses for legal professionals in Việt Nam and still counsel VN government agencies on legal matters. I have founded and managed businesses for me and my family, both law and non-law. I have published many articles on national newspapers and radio stations in Việt Nam. In 1989 I was one of the founding members of US-VN Trade Council, working to re-establish US-VN relationship. Since the early 90's, I have established and managed VNFORUM and VNBIZ forum on VN-related matters; these forums are the subject of a PhD thesis by Dr. Caroline Valverde at UC-Berkeley and her book Transnationalizing Viet Nam. I translate poetry and my translation of "A Request at Đồng Lộc Cemetery" is now engraved on a stone memorial at Đồng Lộc National Shrine in VN. I study and teach the Bible and Buddhism. In 2009 I founded and still manage dotchuoinon.com on positive thinking and two other blogs on Buddhism. In 2015 a group of friends and I founded website CVD - Conversations on Vietnam Development (cvdvn.net). I study the art of leadership with many friends who are religious, business and government leaders from many countries. In October 2011 Phu Nu Publishing House in Hanoi published my book "Positive Thinking to Change Your Life", in Vietnamese (TƯ DUY TÍCH CỰC Thay Đổi Cuộc Sống). In December 2013 Phu Nu Publishing House published my book "10 Core Values for Success". I practice Jiu Jitsu and Tai Chi for health, and play guitar as a hobby, usually accompanying my wife Trần Lê Túy Phượng, aka singer Linh Phượng.

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