Home At Last

April 26th, 2005

After all the military red tape in processing and them telling us how to act we were allowed to go book our flights to our homes. I booked a flight on the old National airlines on an old 707 but then it was fairly new. While walking out of the processing center there were a lot of long hairs and girls with headbands standing along side the fence on our way to the bus. They heckled us a lot but we weren’t spit on. The movement wasn’t that strong at that time. I climbed aboard the bus for my trip to the airport. There wasn’t much going on so far as protesters so it went without incidents. I lifted my duffle bag on the baggage portion and picked up my ticket then began moving down the concourse to my flight departure waiting area. I remember walking with pride, spit shined jump boots, Combat Infantry Badge, Air Medal with silver oak leaf cluster, Presidential Unit Citation, Valorous Unit Citation, Vietnamese Campaign Medal (2 campaigns), Vienames Service Medal (two stars on it for two six month stints), National Defense Service Medal, Jump Wings with the 1st of the 12th Cav background, 101st Unit Patch on the top of my left sleeve, one glorious 1st Cavalry Division Combat Patch with the last of the Airborne tabs worn over the top of it, Garrison cap with the glider patch, Sergeant stripes on my sleeve, and last but now least, two gold two inch stripes running perpendicular to my sleeve to signify two six month tours in combat. I was beaming with pride. I had faced the worst the enemy could throw at me and walked away the winner every time.

Believe it or not there were an awful lot of people that stopped me and greeted me, shook my hand, told me we were doing a fine job and told me they were glad I made it home. That honestly brought a tear to my eye. There were a few long hairs that made nasty remarks but nobody got in my face. I’m quite sure they didn’t really want any part of a returning vet wearing a CIB and Jump Wings.

I reached my waiting area and checked in. The two young ladies also thanked me for my service. What struck me as strange is one of the ladies walked out from behind the counter, gave me a hug and said welcome home. That meant a lot. It was time to board so I got on the plane as nervous as a cat. I was ready. I knew my family was probably leaving the house to come pick me up at the Memphis airport. We tok off without incident and were having a pretty smooth flight until we hit the Rocky Mountains. Then it got really rough. We hit a wind going straight down and we all began to pray because the plane was dropping like a rock. But apparently it was common to have those downdrafts over the rockies. The pilot got it under control after dropping 500-1000 feet and we all wiped our brows. From there it was a smooth flight. I remember touching down at the Memphis airport thinking “what was I going to say” and who was going to be there. At that time we still had to walk down the ladder. I came out of the door to a round of applause. I was stunned. My entire family was there. The first one that came up to me was my father. He stood back and looked at me. He was never an emotional man at all. He looked at all the decorations on my uniform and shook my hand for a minute then pulled me too him and hugged me then wispered “welcome home son”. That was one of the most important moments of my life. Then we went through the family greetings. I knew they were glad to see me no matter what kind of a son of a bitch I had been all my life because they were all crying.

We drove home to a nice home cooked meal. No “C” rations. We visited for most of the day then I went out and saw my friends who all busted my chops in a joking manner. The next few days were like the first. Then I wanted to buy a car because I had been sending all except $20 of my check to the bank. I only kept $20 on me in the bush (no place to spend it). At that time you had to be 21 to buy your own car. You could not legally have it in your name until 21. I went to my dad to get him to go sign for my car. I had cash to pay for it. He refused, told me I was too young to own my own car. I was a little more than taken aback but what could I do? My mother heard him say that and told me to go get in the car and we drove down to the car lot to buy the nice ‘61 Impala convertible.

I played around in Memphis for the remainder of my leave time “breaking in” the car at every opportunity. Finally I had to report to my next duty station, Ft. Campbell, KY, home of the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles. When I reported into the replacement center I was greeted with wonderful news. At that very time the division was deploying their last two brigades. Since I had just come back I didn’t have to go back for 6 months. It was my choice. The 1st Sergeant saw me standing at the counter with the Cav combat patch, Combat Infantry Badge, and Sergeant’s stripes. He tried to talk me into going back with them and I declined. He told me to wait a minute then escorted me into a Major’s office. The recruiter did everything but beg me to go back with them because they needed experieced NCO’s because not very many of their men had ever seen combat. I was an E-5 Sergeant at that time and he promised me I would be an E-7 platoon sergeant by the time I got back. It was a tempting offer but I turned it down. I often wonder how many men I could have saved with my experience because I know I could have saved some. But I became selfish and stayed on at Ft. Campbell with a security platoon that was simply gravy while those other young troopers were facing Charlie in larger numbers and the fights were becoming more intense. When TET began 6 months later I really felt bad because I know I would have saved some of those men.

On the bright side, the orders had come through for my Bronze Star with “V” for valor and I had it pinned on my chest by the commanding general of Ft Campbell in front of an entire brigade. That was a proud moment for me.

Still, to this day I wish I’d gone back to help.

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