AND DAUGHTERS IN TOUCH
The Story Behind the Name
BY KAREN ZACHARIAS
Nina McCoy of Pomona, California. Nina is the eldest child of SFC
John McCoy, KIA, Sept. 26, 1964. He was 39 at the time of his
death. Now 47, Nina was only 10 when her father told her he was
going to a faraway country to fight for freedom's sake. “My father
had been a POW during World War II. He had seen people tortured,
maimed, brutalized. He understood what freedom meant,” Nina said.
Army Ranger, McCoy volunteered for Vietnam. A specialist in escape
and evacuation, he didn't appear to have any hesitations about his
role. But Nina did. She remembers the feeling that swept over her
as the family dog, Lucky, began to bark and bark as the family
pulled out of their driveway the day McCoy shipped out from New
got out of the car and told Lucky to calm down, that he was only
going to be gone a year,” Nina recalled. “I knew then that he
would never be back.”
McCoy took a bullet through the forehead and his family took one
through their hearts. Nina recalled her mother retreating to her
didn't talk about anything. She just isolated herself with her
newspapers and magazines.My brothers and I never talked about Dad
or Vietnam either,” Nina said.
and her brothers - Jim and Mike, then 8 and 6 - learned that
talking about the war upset people. “I remember on the first day
of school how the teacher would always ask us to stand up and
introduce ourselves and say something. I would stand and say, ‘Hi,
I'm Nina McCoy and my father was killed in Vietnam.’ The teacher
would immediately move on to the next child. Vietnam was
unpopular. It wasn't a subject they wanted to talk about.”
silence about the Vietnam War confused Nina. “I felt conflicted.
It felt like I should be ashamed of something but I didn't know
what. I hadn't done anything wrong. And my father was a hero. I
couldn't understand what I was supposed to be ashamed of.”
she entered puberty and saw the images of the war demonstrators on
television, Nina began to understand why Vietnam veterans were
advised not to wear their uniforms home on the airplanes and why
they, too, fell silent. “It was different for veterans of World
War II. They came home in ships where they had opportunities to
debrief. Vietnam veterans learned not to talk about their
experiences,” she said.
Nina's mother never remarried. Her brothers have gone on to become
financial planners. But it was a difficult journey. Her mother
made do with the widow's annual pension of $10,000 and a monthly
Social Security check. “My brother says we grew up in poverty. I
think of poverty as someone without shoes. We had those,” Nina
said. What they lacked most was the presence of a loving father.
brothers never had a father to teach them how to gap a sparkplug.
I didn't have a father to teach me how to drive,” she said. Or to
walk her down the aisle. So when Nina married, she carried a
snapshot of her father in her bridal bouquet. And she placed that
snapshot by her wedding cake. “I wanted everyone to know this was
my father, and he wasn't here because he had been killed in
Vietnam,” Nina said.
no longer feels the need to remain silent about her father's
death, thanks in large part to the Vietnam veterans she's
befriended through Sons and Daughters in Touch. Nina first heard
of the organization in an article in People magazine. A
group of Vietnam veterans helped her scrape enough money together
to attend the first gathering at The Wall on Father's Day.
remember sitting in that sharing circle. There must have been 30
or more of us. And one person would say something, then somebody
would say, ‘Yeah, I felt that way, too!’ It was like being with
family. It didn't matter who you were, how much money you had or
didn't have, we were all family. We embraced each other,” she
and brother Mike eventually tracked down the man who was with
their father the day he was killed. “He was there when my father
drew his last breath. And for 30 years he had been carrying this
guilt, that somehow he was responsible for what happened. Mike and
I told him we didn't blame him, and that it was just our father's
time to go. He was set free from that guilt.”
Today Nina and brother Mike are active participants in VVA Chapter
47. “When I'm with these men, it's like being with a group of
loving uncles,” she said. “And it helps me feel closer to my
father. We have so much we can give to one another.” Most
importantly, the freedom to grieve.
Today, Nina works in the Willed Body program at Western University
of Health Sciences, where she meets with families who are donating
body parts of loved ones. “Vietnam changed my life,” she said. “I
went from being 10 and growing-up to being a grown-up 10-year-old.
I thought I had enough of death, then. But the Lord put me in a
job where I deal with grieving people all the time. And that's
okay. Because I'm good at what I do. I know what loss is and what
it means to grieve.”