Little Girl

Leilani SquireBlog6 Comments

Little Girl

Have you ever wondered about the little girl whose father is deployed? What is it like for her to say goodbye, to hug and kiss him one more time—afraid to let him go? Afraid to watch him walk away because she knows in her heart she’ll never see him again. And as he boards a ship, an airplane, a train, he hears her calling out: “Daddy! Daddy! Please don’t leave me!” He glances over his shoulder, and watching her reach her small arms toward him, disappears into the belly of the beast. I bet most of us have never thought about that young girl—we’re so busy going along our day, focusing on job and school and family life. I bet most of us don’t even know she exists—unless we were, or are, that young girl.

A couple of years ago, the hot water pipe sprang a leak in my garage. Water dripped onto stored boxes and seeped inside. The contents of one of the boxes were letters written by my mother to my father when he was deployed during his service in the Navy. I had packed those letters away to read when I was ready—that was fifteen years ago. As I spread the wet and ink-smeared letters on the kitchen floor, the living room floor, a tarp on the garage floor, I knew I still wasn’t ready to read them. But they were here now, out in the open and I couldn’t turn away from them any longer. So I began to read, discovering secrets, forgotten memories, incidents of my sisters, some harrowing, some tender. The letters also told of the love my mother had for my father, and the concern he had for his family, even though he was thousands of miles away.

I read about the time I sobbed and whimpered, “They took my daddy away. They took my daddy away.” We were driving home after saying goodbye to my when he was being deployed to Japan. I was five years old. I didn’t understand what was happening. I only knew that my daddy left. We took him to a big ship and he boarded that big ship and then we stood on the dock and watched the big ship pull away and disappear into the bay. I don’t consciously remember this. But my heart remembers the emptiness, the sadness, the fear that I didn’t have a daddy any more.

What can we do to help these little ones of the United States armed forces who are too young to understand why things are the way they are? Why do we forget about the children who sacrifice, too? What can we do to bring this child into the fold, embrace this child and carry some of the wounds? When we remember and protect these children, perhaps this will help our country as well.

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About the Author
Leilani Squire

Leilani Squire

Leilani Squire is the Founder and Director of Returning Soldiers Speak. She was born at Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu while her father, Grant R. Squire, was deployed on an aircraft carrier off the coast of Okinawa during the Korean War. She is a writer, creativity coach, and since 2010, has been working with veterans and their families to help them tell their stories.

6 Comments on “Little Girl”

  1. It’s funny how Sandy, Sandra Fluck, remembers the leis because this is the time I thought about before I started reading her comment. What she didn’t mention was the leis were taken from the fridge and we would return each day until our father’s ship returned and by the time he did come back there was mostly string.

    1. Leilani Squire

      Ah, I can imagine the little girls who are sisters, standing under the Hawaiian sun, waiting and grasping the brown and wilting flowers in their small hands. What a beautiful, and yet heart-wrenching image. I bet the just-returned sailor was happy to have you put the “mostly string” around his neck. I bet he loved that lei more than if it had been the newly purchased lei because it came from you. Thank you for telling this story. It’s beautiful, and speaks of what daughters experience who have a father in the military.

  2. The commanding officers of your ship, Ken, were good men to understand and then tell their men that the military family members also serve. They might have had children of their own and saw the sadness in their eyes before they boarded ship. Or saw the happiness in the child’s eyes when they disembarked the ship and held their family close. I really the phrase, “they also serve who stand and wait.” It’s a good writing prompt.

  3. I know how Leilani feels about that little girl who sees her father off. When we lived in Hawaii, we said good-bye to our father for six months, then returned home for six months, and then left again for another six months. At the time we were young and didn’t know about the war in Korea while our father was stationed in Okinawa. One time he was supposed to arrive at Hickam Air Force Base (now Hickam Field) and we had leis to give to him, but we were told his plane was delayed, they would let us know when it arrived. We took the leis home and put them in the refrigerator. When my father’s tour of duty was up, we returned to the States, but we had no naval housing to live in, so we camped out at Yosemite National Park for two weeks. This was in Alameda where my father was stationed at Alameda Naval Base (now Naval Air Station Alameda). We lived there for two years and saw our father as if he were a civilian employee. This was different. Having our father come home at night for dinner! Although our mother protected us as much as she could from his absence, it sometimes felt like a disappearance. But this was our life in the military. Our father left and returned and got transferred and we were in a new place and a new school and somehow it seemed normal to us. By the time I was was 12 I had attended 16 different schools. I learned my arithmetic and geography traveling from coast to coast. And read a lot of books. I understand Leilani’s distress when her Navy father left her. I am one of her sisters.

    1. Leilani Squire

      As your younger sister, I love hearing about your childhood, what you experienced as a child of the military, what you feel about it now as an adult. I don’t remember the lei part of your story (I may not have been born yet) but I remember, in bits and pieces and dream-like memory, camping in Yosemite. You write: “Although our mother protected us as much as she could from his absence, it sometimes felt like a disappearance.” Upon refelction I thought, the father goes away to protect the country, and the mother stays with the children to protect them–I’ve never looked at it in this way. Thank you for letting me see the military family from a new perspective. My sense is because our father’s deployment felt like a disappearnce to you, it must feel the same, or almost the same, to the children whose mommies and daddies are deployed today.

  4. Ken Klemm

    Very powerful. Too often the family members are forgotten. When I was in the Navy, in 1985-1989, the commanding officers of the ship made sure that all sailors were reminded of the importance of family. It was said, “they also serve who stand and wait.”

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