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Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D.

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TIME 100 2012 Gala Toast: A Tribute to my Father

Posted: 04/25/2012 12:22 pm

My father was a first generation American. His mother was from Germany; his father came from Holland.

We are fairly certain that he lied about his age to join the Navy during WWII. We are absolutely certain that he fought in the Pacific, that he was injured and that he spent time in a VA hospital in Washington State. He never talked about any of that.

My father taught me about honor, integrity and service. He also taught me about loyalty and sacrifice. My mother had a severe mental illness; she really couldn't take care of me or my three older brothers. So although it was an unusual thing to do during the 1960s, my father fought to keep custody of all four of us when my parents eventually divorced. It cost him everything he had.

Like many men of his generation who served in the military, my father had tattoos up and down both arms. As the Vietnam conflict heated up and our country became embroiled in turmoil -- so many protests and such rage -- my father began to roll down his sleeves when we went into town to hide those tattoos. I understand now that he did this to protect us from possible ugly comments and reactions that might be aimed at him because he was a veteran. He did it because our country no longer honored those who served.

My father died when I was 27. He didn't get to see me earn my Ph.D. He didn't get to meet his grandchildren.

But I know that he would be so proud of what I have created -- an organization that offers free mental health care so that those who come home from war receive the mental health support that they need and deserve. And I know he would be so pleased that communities across our nation are now stepping up to ensure that the men, women and families who serve our country are welcomed home properly.

 
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