A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

April/May 2002


The Story Behind the Name 


Meet 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. 

An 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 Jersey. 

“Dad 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 room. 

“She 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. 

Nina 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.” 

The 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.” 

As 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.

“My 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. 

She 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.  

“I 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 said. 

Nina 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.” 


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