07 January 2008

The Homecoming

The Homecoming

The thump of the landing gear locking into place jarred me awake as the jet made its final approach to El Toro Marine Air Base. After a short taxi from the runway we deplaned and took our first look in over a year at the land we fought to protect, or so we believed.

I tossed my seabag over my shoulder and walked off the tarmak, alone. No crowds, no bands, no signs, no hands to shake--just the night.

Welcome home Marine!

Slipping Back into the World

Just twenty-four hours prior to my homecoming I’d been lying in a ditch in Dong Ha listening to the sound of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) artillery trying for one last time to end my impending homecoming. And now I’d arrived back in “the world”--- more nervous than I was in that ditch. I began to ask myself the questions it would take years to answer.

It was early spring, 1968. Many back home were beginning to see the war as an ugly period in America’s history and for those who served there it was an effort without honor, an almost shameful exercise in misplaced patriotism.

My homecoming was the way most Vietnam veterans returned. Unlike prior wars, we were sent to Vietnam, not as cohesive units with shared experiences, but as individuals. Upon arrival in-country we were dispersed throughout the country as replacements, strangers in a strange hostile land and even strangers to the combat units we joined. We arrived back home the same way, as individuals, alone with our experiences in an ungrateful nation.

Although protesters waving signs and spitting in the faces of returning soldiers happened to some, it’s largely a popular myth. Most of us just quietly slipped back into the world we left--without fanfare, without recognition and without gratitude. The silence that greeted us left open our wounds and delayed our healing far longer than any other returning war veterans---just one more distinction of the Vietnam war.

By: Charles Atkins

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