I just noticed this today, so I figured it was worth discussing.
In Punisher #50, Frank has a dream where the kids were sick so they didn't go to the park, and thus tragedy did not strike the Castle family. The dream takes place in what I assume would have been the present, where Frank is a grandfather, having a dinner with the whole family, and good times, and it's very pleasant. Eventually Frank wakes up, and he's bothered by the dream, and he's tries to do some target shooting to clear his head, and it doesn't work, and then he runs into Barracuda again, learns he has a daughter, and away we go.
The thing that caught my eye this time around was during the dream, Frank is talking with his son and son-in-law, and the in-law is asking about Frank serving in Vietnam. Frank says he served most of a tour, but caught some shrapnel near the end. What's interesting to me is that Ennis had established in various other works that Frank had three tours in Vietnam, not just one. The first, as far as I can tell, was fairly basic. The only thing I know about it was that he heard Sal Buvoli* had gotten killed on that tour. The second tour was the one that apparently invovled darker work, including a mission to go silence a captured American general**. The third tour was the one that put at Firebase Valley Forge, where the events of Punisher: Born took place.
Seeing as Ennis wrote all those works, I don't think that was an error. The way I see it, there are two possible explanations. One, in the dream, Frank is not being totally honest, because the things he experienced on those later tours are things best left buried. I recall from Born that Maria was pregnant with Frank Jr. during the third tour, and since he told the son-in-law, it's possible Frank just never told him about all of it, and Maria and Lisa agreed not to discuss it either. I don't really buy that though.
What I think is, Dream Frank never had those latter tours, he never went on, is wetworks a proper term, never had to do whatever was necessary to survive at Firebase Valley Forge, and that strikes me as an interesting thing for Ennis to put in there. The one thing Ennis kept working at throughout his time on Punisher was that it isn't as simple as "family dies = Punisher". Frank Castle is more than that, and more than the training he received in the military. He's those things, plus a hundred other little things through his life before that*** that helped make him as effective as he is. Still, it's interesting that Frank's subconscious removes those tours for the dream. It suggests that Frank realizes that whatever he experienced over there, whatever darkness he reached for to survive, would have wrecked this happy life, even if his family survived.
It raises the question in my mind of what Ennis believes Frank Castle would have been, if he had done all three tours, but not lost his family to crime (or random superheroic activities****)? Would he have kept going back to military service, or become a cop? I have a hard time seeing Castle as a serial killer*****, just killing people randomly. Would that darkness drive him to kill his own family, or would he turn to more self-destructive pursuits to release it? I don't have any answers, and unless Ennis has said something about it somewhere, I don't imagine I will. I like that Ennis gives Frank that level of self-awareness. It's not new, Frank has been pretty open about why he does what he does, how effective he is, and what it's done to him as a person. Still, I appreciate that even if his dreams, he isn't trying to delude himself, even if the result is a bit disturbing.
* Sal being the older brother of the girl that Frank was sweet on in The Punisher: The Tyger. Sal was also the one who burned alive the mafia son who assaulted her, which lead to her slitting her wrists.
** Also described in The Tyger.
*** For example, in The Tyger, we see young Frank is very good at sneaking around, and listening in when nobody knows he's there. He probably honed that as he aged, but that tendency towards moving silently, not announcing his presence when he doesn't want to, was already in place.
**** So let's leave Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe out of consideration.
***** Actually, is the Punisher a serial killer? Carnage is considered one, and Frank has a higher body count than he does, I'm sure.