He tried to always end those stories with something cheerful, because that was the way he looked at life, but you could hear the hardship through it anyway. When my dad would tell me about hard days and sleepless nights in the jungle, he'd spend more time talking about his friends telling jokes and singing Motown songs to get through it together. But one time when I was in high school, he sat me down and really leveled with me. He told me that he'd been a helicopter gunner and that countless times he killed people that he didn't know. He'd watch them fall to the ground hundreds of feet below him every time he pulled that trigger.
"It was war," he said to me, without a smile on his face. "It was bloody."
He got real quiet and I couldn't think of anything to say. He was my hero, and I was just trying to picture him, not much older than I was at the time, in a helicopter above a jungle, leaning out the door shooting people every day, just to stay alive.
"I never told you who you're named after, did I, Tray?"
That wasn't what I was expecting to hear. "No, Dad. You and Mom said you just liked the way it sounded."
"Well, we did, but there's more to it," he said.