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Soldier Reflects on Vietnam, Veterans' Day [Opinion]

This Nov. 11, a Briarcliff Manor veteran recalls his service.

Robert Zawacki, a Briarcliff Manor resident, Vietnam War veteran, and this reporter's father, talks about his service on Veterans' Day.

Zawacki volunteered for duty in 1966 and rose to the rank of Infantry Platoon Sergeant by age 19.

Letitia Woods November 12, 2012 at 01:08 AM
Great interview, a perfect Veterans Day piece. Thanks Zawacki men!
Aidan November 12, 2012 at 01:33 AM
Mother Night "Ave Maria, Gratia Plena, Dominus Tecum." Mothers don't pray like the rest of us. I learned that long ago. Have a brother at war and you'll learn a lot of things about your mother. Sure, she seems to be the same lady. But she's not. The house works, the other kids go about growing up and the mundane and ordinary seem to be the substance of the days. But not the nights. Night's a different story. No meals or laundry or drop-offs. No daily routines scheduled. No searches for missing gloves or cleats or books. No school project solving or whispers to grow up on. No friend analysis or girlfriend observations. Or rah-rahs from the stands. Nope. Nights belong to the son on the other side of the world. Far from a phone. Far from home. And her nights were almost silent. Or so she thought. Because she thought the house was wrapped in sleep, so her prayer-murmurs seemed safe from others' ears. But she' was tricked by the silence of the dark because her whispers might as well have been cathedral bells in the still of the night.
Aidan November 12, 2012 at 01:34 AM
It was an odd whisper, too. Almost breathy and punctuated by "wiss" after "wiss". That's the give away that it's a prayer. That whisper told you so. Not every word was clear and catchable. But it wasn't hard to swallow the gist. And then you got the the give-away cue. "Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum …" Then you knew she was half way around the world. Oh, you could hear her voice … somewhat. And you could spy the night light through the crack of the door. But she wasn't really really there. She was half-a-world away. I'd heard that silent racket every night. For years. Ever since my Marine-brother had moved to the west coast, then to Hawaii … each a step to Vietnam. A fourteen thousand leap from Gramercy Place. All the brothers were sort of awed by the sheer distance. But my Mother never seemed troubled by that at all. She was troubled by the powerlessness. There was nothing in her past to show her how to intervene, how to help her son, how to soothe the moment or how to war with her fear. There wasn't any parental trick in her sack for this type of stuff. So she did what she knew how to do best. She prayed. "Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus."
Aidan November 12, 2012 at 01:38 AM
At twelve or thirteen, with a little luck, you finally (sorta) get past yourself. And a sleepy shuffle down the upstair's hallway at 2 a.m. … surrounded by loud whispers … will get you all the way past yourself. Because now you're eavesdropping on something sacred. The type of whisper tells you that. It's part prayer and part plea. And I knew it was damp with tears. You could only make out pieces of words here and there. But you understood it all very perfectly. You don't need any help like you do with Shakespeare. Or trigonometry or Latin. There's no riddle to unravel. There's no real secret at all. You hear just a few words and you know the message. You know who she's really talking to … and you feel she's being listened to. "Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus," And there you stood. Alone. In the dark. In the hallway that had become a sacristy. Nothing to see and almost … almost … nothing to hear. You don't dare barge in on that moment. Too sacred. Too intimate. But it all seemed so volumed-up because the silence was so loud. And you knew the next prayer-line. And the one word in that prayer-line that has to be a rugged whisper for that lady. The one word and the one phrase she didn't want to say, but has no choice. Not if it's to be a successful plea.
Aidan November 12, 2012 at 01:38 AM
"nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen." "Now and at the hour of our death. Amen." That's the phrase that that locked your legs and froze your heart. Then a pause. Until it all began again. Over and over and over. Part prayer. Part mantra. Part plea. But all pain. And for years that was the night noise at that old house on Gramercy Place. Packed with five other sons and a princess daughter. I know others heard it as well. They had to hear it. It happened every night. There were too many other sons there. But not a one has ever mentioned it … even almost fifty years later. It was a moment we were all privy to. But not a part of. And none of us was offended at all. Because we all understood, in our own way, that this had nothing to do with us. Or war. Or miles. This had to do with a mother and a son. And a mother willing her son home. To her. Alive. So, once again. "Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum …" Aidan 11/11/12
Honora Firth-Jones November 12, 2012 at 02:03 AM
So nice to honor your father with this interview! Thanks to all the veterans that keep our country free!
Alan Badanes November 12, 2012 at 03:20 AM
Nice reprt
Alan Badanes November 12, 2012 at 03:21 AM
I am sure you are proud of your father
Paul Feiner November 12, 2012 at 04:09 AM
the town of Greenburgh has a living history initiative. Over 90 veterans, most of WWII and Korea have been interviewed. The 30 minute interviews of each of the 90+ veterans are played on Greenburgh public access TV from Friday to the end of Veterans day and Memorial day each year. We continue to interview more veterans. The interviews, conducted by Alan Hochberg and produced with the help of Steve Wittenberg, are being archived at the Library of Congress in DC and the Greenburgh Library. PAUL FEINER, Greenburgh Town Supervisor
JJ November 12, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Nice job and thank your Dad for his service to Country.............
Ed Van Bomel November 12, 2012 at 02:58 PM
A true American Herop...you are a good man, Bob Zawacki, a good man!

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