A Memorial Day Tribute to Dad for his Service in Vietnam

Megan Smolenyak
May 22 · 3 min read

My dad is the understated, modest type who’s reluctant to talk about his service in Vietnam. In fact, he will likely be irritated with me when he sees this, but after years of writing assorted Memorial and Veterans Day tributes about others, it occurred to me that I had never extended this simple courtesy to my own father. And candidly speaking, as one who was just old enough to recall crossing days off the calendar, my parents’ R&R reunion in Hawaii (we all went through a Don Ho phase after that — Tiny Bubbles and One Paddle, Two Paddle, anyone?), and going to Newark Airport in pajamas to greet Dad upon his return, I also remember how my father’s service was — well, less than appreciated at the time.

My family was very fortunate in that Dad came home, so technically, I should wait for Veterans Day for this small tribute, but I hope you’ll forgive my impatience as I take this opportunity to show in pictures a slightly different perspective of the Vietnam War through some of the tour-of-duty photos of a gentleman who is now Col. George C. Smolenyak, U.S. Army, retired — the man I’m lucky enough to call Dad.

In his honor, I’d be grateful if you’d thank a veteran for his or her service — this Memorial Day, next Veterans Day, or whenever the chance arises.

Our family lived in Spring Lake Heights, NJ at the time Dad was serving, and local churches collected soap to send for distribution in Vietnam. No one stopped to think about the cost of shipping it there, so our little apartment was stacked with boxes of soap until arrangements could be made. I recall it smelling like a giant bar of Ivory for months after. Here Major Smolenyak gives out the soap to eager youngsters.
The village chief (I believe of Hòa-cũ) greets Major Smolenyak when his unit assists with some construction projects. On the right is a close-up of Major Smolenyak.
The village chief of Hòa-cũ was kind enough to write a thank you note in English to my father for recent construction efforts. Around the same time, I sent a very different letter to him, reflecting the perspective of a young daughter back home in the States. Sadly, I can shed no light on what was so funny about the frog.
This and several of the photos that follow show what the village chief was thanking my father for.
Locals and American soldiers worked together to construct several buildings for the village.
Another perspective of the construction work by locals and American soldiers.
Dad got in on the action, slinging cement to help with the foundations.
As with the soap, folks back home had collected clothing and sent it to Vietnam for distribution. According to notes on the back of this photo, most of the children seen here are wearing some of this donated clothing.
Along with soap and clothing, food was also given out. Local youngsters queued in a snug, but orderly, fashion waiting for their turn.
Clearly, it was a long wait, but I like to think that supplies held out so that all were well fed that day which happened to be Christmas of 1967.

Megan Smolenyak

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Genealogical adventurer & storyteller who loves solving mysteries! 6 books, 20+ TV shows, former Ancestry.com Chief Family Historian, cold case sleuth for many.