The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

March/April 2003
 
 
 

"I Found What I Was Searching For"
Tom Hubbard's Quest For Peace

BY BERNARD EDELMAN

Tom Hubbard is 38 years old.  He is an artist and graphic designer. He is successful by most any measure: He's very good at the work he does, and he does the work he wants to do. He is happily married to Lisa. They have two healthy young sons. 

Yet for Tom Hubbard, there was always something missing in his life, a vague discontent.  When his oldest boy, Calvin, was two-and-a-half years old, "it hit me like a bolt out of the blue: He was the same age I had been when my father was killed. And if I weren't here he would have the same experience I had. I couldn't tell him about his grandfather, explain what had happened to him, or share our family history because I didn't know it myself." 

Suddenly, he realized how much growing up without his father had affected him, how he wasn't cognizant of his father's sacrifice. And how important it suddenly became to "know him."  His father, Thomas Patrick Kindt, had been a Marine sergeant with Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, when he was killed in action on September 21, 1966, in Vietnam.    

It wasn't that Tom had grown up without a father. His mother had remarried when he was five years old, and his stepfather had adopted him and raised him as his son.  "I took his last name," Tom said. "I still call him 'Dad.' "

But his biological father was a cipher to Tom. "I was always told how much I looked like my father, how my expressions or mannerisms were like his, how proud he would be of me. I know this was never meant to be hurtful, but it did hurt because I didn't know him and he wasn't there."

Before his father shipped out for Vietnam, Tom said, "he told my mother that he wanted to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery if anything happened to him. When he was killed, my mother was 24 years old. We were living in Indiana and, having just lost him, she couldn't bear the idea of having him so far away again."    

Tom never did like going to the cemetery, though, when he was growing up. 

But in 1996, 30 years after his father had died, his mother "made a few phone calls and discovered that my father could still be buried in Arlington. In October 1996, his body was disinterred in Indianapolis and reburied in Arlington.  He was given a full military funeral, and I was presented with the flag from his casket."

This event marked both an end and a beginning, Tom felt. "For my mother and the rest of my family, it was closure; for me, it was the beginning of a journey to get to know my father."

The real quest, though, didn't begin till about two years later, while reading a story to his firstborn. 

"I knew then that I had to do something; I just wasn't sure what," he explained during a telephone interview from his home in Columbia City, Indiana. "Vietnam had always been this dark secret that I had hidden away."     

Tom stumbled across a few articles on the Vietnam War and a couple of documentaries. "Once I began to open myself up and allow 'Vietnam' into my life, `Vietnam' seemed to be everywhere," he said. "And all I had to do was not resist. A friend told me: When you're meant to do something, it just keeps hitting you in the head until you get it. Vietnam kept hitting me. I couldn't not do it."

As an artist, Tom said, the way he makes sense of things "is by making stuff. I knew that as part of this process of understanding I would have to go to Vietnam. I had to stand on the ground where my father had been killed. I had to confront what I had been unwilling to confront for more than 30 years." 

"Vietnam had not been talked about at home, nor was it taught much in high school or college. I remember getting in trouble in history class for correcting my teacher when the Vietnam War was called a  conflict. But I can get pretty fired up about my projects, and I was ready to jump on the next plane to Vietnam. Fortunately, Lisa, my wife, has this grounding influence on me. She told me to take my time and do the research, to "do my homework and to do it right.' " 

Tom spent the next 18 months researching the war and learning as much as he could about his father. He interviewed family members, acquired USMC field reports, personnel records, maps, photos.  He spoke with several of his father's childhood friends. He contacted members of his father's battalion, including his commanding officer. And he was "fortunate enough to meet a veteran who takes veterans and their families to Vietnam. With his help, I was able to decipher the military reports, understand where my father had been, and plan a trip so I could get to the places I needed to be."  

In the summer of 2000, Tom traveled to Vietnam.     

"Lisa, my mother, and I all went," he said. "When I started this quest, and I told my mom I was going to Vietnam, I expected to have her support but never thought that she would be interested in going. She told me that she had always been curious about Vietnam but wasn't sure if she was strong enough to go herself. And I was finally able to talk openly with her about the war and about my father." 

They flew into Hanoi, then worked their way south more than 1,500 miles to the Mekong Delta, "with a very intensive two weeks spent retracing my father's tour of duty, from the DMZ, to Hue and Danang, and finally to the village of Kim Lien where he was killed," Tom said. 

Kim Lien was the emotional apex of the trip. It was there, in the place where his father and three of his comrades had been killed in a brief, violent firefight, that Tom "felt a sense of peace. I felt his presence. I felt I was supposed to be there." 

"It was very emotional and painful but not as difficult as I'd imagined. I think we fear the things we don't understand. Standing on the beach at Kim Lien after all the research I had done made it real and tangible. A veteran who had helped me told me it would all make sense when I got there, and it did. All of the information I had gleaned from various sources, from USMC field reports, military records, and accounts of some of the men who had served with my father just dovetailed together perfectly.  

"I found what I was searching for."  

Thomas Patrick Kindt had volunteered for a Combined Action Platoon, a pacification program the Marine Corps had begun in late 1965. Kim Lien, just north of Danang, was a very dangerous area and known to be very pro-VC, Tom learned. The Viet Cong used the Nam-O River to move troops and supplies around, and there was a lot of contact with the enemy in the late summer and early fall of 1966.  

"My father was NCO in charge of the CAP," Tom said. "I learned that several new guys had just rotated in and that even though it was not his patrol to take out, my father volunteered because he thought he could help them in the field. At 3:30 a.m. their position was overrun by approximately 12 VC. My father and three other Marines were killed. It was very intense and very fast. The bodies of the dead VC had been dragged away by the time the reaction force arrived."

Tom Hubbard came to the realization that his father "wasn't in Indiana or Washington or Vietnam but that he was in my heart, that his spirit lives in me." The love I have for my two young sons, Calvin and Grady, is the same love my father had for me. This was a wonderful revelation.  

"Vietnam is now no longer this dark secret," Tom said. "I allowed myself to feel the pain that for so many years I had been unable to deal with. Some call this 'healing' or 'closure' but I'm not sure about that. I feel much better that I'd made this trip. I have a sense of peace and understanding. My mother has said she feels closure, but I think I may always be looking for something." 

Tom came to be proud of his father. "I learned that he was a Marine through and through.  He was dedicated, proud, and determined. He had strength through his faith. He was very hard-working and motivated, and he had a good sense of humor.  He was a bit of a joker.  At the same time, he was a gentle man."  

Last November Tom took Calvin and Grady to Washington, D.C., for Veterans Day. They visited The Wall and Arlington National Cemetery.  Tom told his sons "about their grandfather and the various ways we honor and remember all our veterans. Calvin, a first grader, just came home with a story he wrote in school about our trip. He wrote about his grandfather who served in Vietnam and was awarded the Purple Heart.  He understood that soldiers fight for our freedom and that we honor and remember them through events, memorials, and our actions."  

During the twentieth anniversary ceremonies at The Wall, Tom was among those who read names, including those of his father and the three Marines who died with him in Kim Lien.

Tom himself feels renewed. "I never served in the military, but I have been accepted by veterans for no reason other than because my father was a Marine," he said. "I could not have made it to Vietnam, the village of Kim Lien, or learned so much about my father's experiences without the support and guidance of the Vietnam veterans I have met. My hope is that by sharing my story I can help others who have lost a loved one in the war, as well as the veterans who served."

   

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