"I Found What I Was
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."
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.' "
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
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
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."
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
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."
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
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
In the summer
of 2000, Tom traveled to Vietnam.
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
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
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."
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
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
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."
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
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.
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."