Stories We Tell: Jeannie Puckett
(Installment 6 of 14)
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“Ralph was extended another six months to finish the Ranger School for the Colombian Army, which meant we were separated for a year. It was only when he returned home to us back in Georgia that he confessed the extension of six more months had been optional but that he had wanted to see it through to the end or it would never have been finished. He had won their respect, and they wanted him to stay. I completely understood how he felt. The Colombian Ranger School was his baby, and he wanted to be there for its completion. I met him in Atlanta and hardly recognized him as he deplaned. He was so thin and tan from his year in the Colombian jungle. He had dropped at least 30 pounds, but he was home!
When little Jeannie saw him, she would not go to him. She was just about two years old. I had shown her a photo of her daddy every night as I put her to bed, telling her to kiss him goodnight. When she saw Ralph, she saw a complete stranger. When I said that this was her daddy, she ran to the bedroom and brought back the photo, saying, “Daddy!” There was no way to convince her that they were the same. It was several months before she warmed to this new “Daddy” being back home.
Years later, when Ralph returned from Vietnam, we both distinctly remember his homecoming with our youngest. Tommy had just gotten back from being away at camp and got out of the car. Tommy stood there looking at his daddy, who was standing in the yard along with myself and the girls. He ran to his daddy, wrapped himself into his arms, and did not let go for the longest time. Tears were streaming down both of their faces. No words were exchanged. We were a family once again, and that was all that mattered to us.
The military family bonds within the individual family unit, taking their “home” with them wherever they are assigned. I have often said that these children are “Citizens of the World.” Many can be drop-shipped anywhere and quickly find a place for themselves due to the constant changes they have had to face. That is not to say they that they do not miss out on something special—something that Ralph and I had growing up in just one place. There is a safety net provided by a stable life in one place, and I do not discount that as being very important. I am, however, grateful to these military families who give up that safety net to serve in our Armed Forces and to provide the rest of us the option to live life as we choose.”
Reflections from Amy:
It had been a hard deployment. Our youngest one, Wynnie, was not even two when her dad left for the second time in her young life. We were at the PX that day, stopping at the food court for her Burger King chicken fries that were a lunchtime treat for her. I turned for a quick minute, and there she was, hugging some poor soldier’s leg, yelling, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” over and over again. I scooped her up, apologizing. “No worries, ma’am. I guess all these uniforms look the same from way down there. I’m sure she knows that I’m not her daddy.” I thanked him, turned away and felt the tears start to well, thinking, I hope so. I really hope so.
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