Thursday, November 11, 2010

Coming Home (from Viet Nam 1971)

The screech of the tires echoed in my memory as the airplane finally landed on the runway at Indianapolis International Airport. My heart was throbbing unrelentlessly in my throat as the realization that I was finally home became apparent. Soon I was to be reunited with Joyce and Michael and my family. Feelings of joy, and fear and relief flushed over me with nervous enthusiasm.
For most of the trip home from Viet Nam, in my display of almost debilitating anticipation I began to hum and softly sing,”I’m gittin married in the morning, ding dong the bells are gonna chime…” It seemed weird even to me but for some reason it seemed to settle my nerves and kept me from bursting out in tears. From the time I arrived in country and began the 365 day countdown to going home, nearly every moment and every conversation concerned how much longer before we are home. Each night when we hit the bunk and each morning when we got our wakeup call, time was right there with no relief from the anxiety of wanting to be home. Finally the time had arrived and I was about to step foot on American soil.
As I nearly galloped down the ramp to the waiting area, I stretched to see a familiar face. There they were huddled with faces that spoke with the radiance of the love I needed to see and feel after such an ordeal.
It seemed our hearts beat in rhythm as we all managed to hug and kiss and release an almost simultaneous breath of relief. I had been around babies enough to realize Michael may look at me as a stranger. After all I left when he was just two months old and now he was over a year old. But he let me hold him almost as if somehow he remembered my face and how much I loved him. The touch of his baby soft skin and the grasp his tiny hand gave my finger, almost made my heart melt in a puddle on the floor.

When we were preparing to come home, one of our instructions out of many was to wear civilian cloths and try to be inconspicuous. I had been sheltered somewhat from the news for this year but I still was aware how unpopular the Viet Nam War was and how some had gone to the extreme of blaming us GI’s for all the terrible things that had gone wrong with the war effort. Some returning GI’s had been attacked or at least threatened by the “war protesters”. I was probably too naive to be afraid. But I also knew enough about the war not to expect a hero’s welcome except from my family.
Upon return and even to this day, I have issue with placing myself in the same ranks as the young men and woman who actually fought with face to face combat. I was an administrative assistant and my weapon of choice was an electric typewriter. The possibilities of attack and injury was there for anyone and at any place while I was there, but I didn’t spend the year in constant fear for my life. We were for the most part pretty well isolated within the perimeter of our base. I did spend several sleepless nights hovering under my bunk as the obnoxious alert horn blared throughout our base.
It could be heard on a pretty regular schedule, especially around holidays.
It was no time before I arrived back in Rushville and began to nestle back into living life as a husband and father. Before I left the country, we packed everything we owned into the back of a rented u-haul trailer and traveled from upstate New York to a tiny one bedroom upstairs apartment in Rushville Indiana, my hometown, just a few blocks from my mom and dad. The apartment was owned by a retired school teacher, Ruth Ray, who happened to live downstairs. Somehow having her close at hand made Joyce’s living their alone less threatening. It was Joyce’s desire to demonstrate her independence that kept her from moving in with either of our parents. Joyce was just twenty and just learning how to be a mother and a wife and how to take care of herself. She had gone from living with her parents to living with me for one short year to fending for herself and her baby in a strange house and a strange town. If any metals were to be given out for this war effort, she definitely should get some metal of honor for her courage and determination and survival skills displayed in that year during the Viet Nam War.

Being a parent of three boys now makes me so very aware of how my parents must have felt for that seemingly endless year that I was gone. They thankfully took my wife and child under their wing and gave much needed support than and now. But their hearts must have ached with sorrow and fear not knowing on a day to day basis whether I was safe or not. Even though I constantly reminded them that where I was seemed pretty safe. The barrage of pictures of boys coming home in body bags on the television had to impede any relief from fear , knowing I was so close to this battle. The families of the GI’s that came home in body bags I am sure received metals and flags to honor their sons and daughters . What about the families of the survivors? They so deserved some reward for the time their family member served. Like Joyce I am confident my mom and dad deserved a metal for that year I served. But the reality is I am sure they felt having me home safe was reward enough.

As I recall, I never had a lot of questions asked about my time over there. It was almost as if to say, “you are back now and safe, let’s just get on with life.” But getting on with life is never that simple is it. Now as I write this I feel confident that I suppressed a lot of feelings on that day. Feelings about the war and all the questions that still go unanswered.

I know now I am proud to be a veteran. I am even proud to be a Viet Nam Veteran. Somehow it seems when I stand up as a veteran, I am not really standing for myself as much as I am standing for all those guys that can not stand. So many young men and woman served our country over the years, many losing their lives for our freedom. It continues for me to be a humble honor to be small part of such an Honorable group.


Monday, November 1, 2010

FOR THOSE WHO KNEW ME By Stephen J. Jeffries
A poem for Breeliegh, a tiny baby that was born into the family of good friends, arriving early and only lived 4 days but touched the lives of many. Even in tragedy , God can speak to us about love and the value of each breath of life.

Too soon I came,
Too soon I reached my tiny hand out.
Out into the harsh sun lite world.
But I could not reach far enough
or high enough to breath the
clean fresh air of living.
I looked up, up to the loving faces
ready to welcome me into their lives.
I reach out, out to an unknown world
ready to test my very being.
I could feel each prayer
lifting me up
Hoping beyond hope
Loving beyond love
But this was not my day
this was not my time to enter.
My life thou short gives hope to others
Hope and joy,
Each beat my heart took
will echo in the lives of those
who knew me.
My heart stands still
but love lives on in those
who knew me.
I was blessed o be a blessing,
if even for a moment,by those
who knew me.