Son of War,

by Donavon L Riley

In the wake of his second deployment, I emerged into a world cast in shades of turmoil and uncertainty. My father, a Vietnam veteran, bore the scars of battle on his flesh and within his psyche. A man transformed by the horrors of conflict, he returned with wounds that bled long after the combat had ceased. As his son, I inherited not only his blood but also his pain and anguish, the unseen currents of trauma that pulled at our lives, even to this day.

Growing up under the looming presence of a warrior haunted by memories of ominous jungles, of friends obliterated, and enemies too young to shoulder a rifle, I navigated a landscape fraught with challenges that exceeded the grasp of my fledgling understanding. In the orbit of my father’s fractured personality, I glimpsed the juxtaposition of strength and vulnerability, a paradox born of survival but tinged with torment. His struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, a desperate bid to exorcise the ghosts of war, became a treacherous terrain I learned to tread.

What so many people who grew up in the shadow of Vietnam fail to gasp, is that in the aftermath of conflict, the battlefield expands beyond the war-zone. It extends into the hearts and homes of those who remain, staining souls with the indelible ink of trauma. And as the son of a veteran who survived two tours of duty, I bore witness to the collateral damage that war inflicts on families. The emotional fallout of post-traumatic stress permeated our lives, manifesting in unpredictable eruptions of anger, emotional detachment, and haunting nightmares.

The consequences of war are not confined to the theater of combat; they reverberate through generations, casting a long and harrowing shadow. My upbringing was an odyssey through this shadowland, a trail of tears that exposed me to the raw brutality of human nature, but also kindled within me an unwavering determination to forge my own path.

As I came of age, I realized that I carried within me the legacy of war’s dehumanizing and destructive forces. I became a living memorial to the sacrifices and scars, the broken dreams and shattered illusions, left in the aftermath of armed conflict. The weight of this legacy pressed upon me, fueling a fiery resolve to rise above the tumult and defy the cycle of destruction my father could not escape.

My path towards redemption began with a fierce act of defiance against the addiction that sought to claim me as its own. In the arena of my own battles, I discovered an unyielding strength that mirrored the resolve of my father to return home from the battlefield. I embraced sobriety as a battlefield of its own, a war against the forces that sought to enslave me. With the same tenacity that drove my father to escape the ghosts that haunted him, I engaged in the struggle with addiction, determined to emerge victorious.

With discipline and resilience I transmuted the pain and adversity that had been handed down to me, carving a new identity for myself. Christian faith became my anchor, grounding me amidst life’s chaotic ups and downs. The teachings of Christ provided a blueprint for sanity and sobriety, guiding me towards forgiveness, redemption, and a renewed sense of purpose.

In my ascent from the depths of addiction, I realized that the very scars that once marked me as a secondary casualty of war had become a testament to my triumph. My existence became a living testament to the human capacity to endure, to overcome, and to transcend the most harrowing of circumstances. I had transformed from a bearer of wounds to a beacon of hope, a living embodiment of the strength that can arise from the ashes of destruction.

The battle scars etched upon my soul no longer speak solely of suffering; they also bear witness to resilience, rebirth, and renewal. So my new life is a testament to the indomitable spirit that thrives even in the face of the darkest abyss. I have not only escaped the clutches of addiction but have harnessed the essence of my father’s warrior spirit to become a victor, rather than a victim, of circumstance.

In the end, my story is the same as that of other children of war. It is not just about survival, but about transcendence. The legacy of war, with all its pain and turmoil, has sculpted me into a instrument of furious strength and fierce love. Mine is life remolded by adversity, faith, and an unyielding will to overcome. My existence stands as a testament to the redemptive power of God’s love, a testament to the fact that even in the face of war’s most insidious consequences, through God’s grace and hard-fought determination we are given the strength to rise, to heal, and to thrive.

By Donovan Riley

Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, and contributing writer for 1517. He is also a co-host of Banned Books and Warrior Priest podcasts. He is the author of the book, "Crucifying Religion” and “The Withertongue Emails.” He is also a contributing author to "The Sinner/Saint Devotional: 60 Days in the Psalms" and "Theology of the Cross".

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