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To my grandfather’s commanding officer:

I want to thank you.

I don’t know your name, or where you are, but I hope your existence is peaceful.

What I do know is that you told my grandfather “no” three times. In doing so, you saved his life.

What I know is that my grandpa was a young, confident member of the United States Air Force in the 1960s. He had a reputation for causing trouble, and an undoubtedly charming smile.


He was a smart kid from a small Indiana town who knew his way around the forest and had handled guns most of his life. Because of the life he’d lived (and partially because of his naive self-assurance) he believed that he could help the war effort in Vietnam.

As a commanding officer, you told him no. You made the decision that David Smith was not to leave the country — that he was not put on this earth to suffer the traumas of that war as we now know them.

Because of this, he survived. Because of you, he came home to his wife and had two children. Because you said, “Smith, you’re not going to Vietnam,” my father was born. Because against regulation you developed an attachment to that particular young man, I exist.

I wanted you to know that I’m grateful. I wanted to you to know that my grandfather is my ultimate role model, and that I think you’d be proud of him.

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