WINDING DOWN VIETNAM
When I returned from R&R I was considered a short timer. (Not much time left in Nam). I worked at the aid station and the duty was routine. Sick call every morning and depending on the day not much else. A lot of pranks and practical jokes to pass the time.
I was in Vietnam for the summer of ‘68. At home riots and sit-ins were taking place. Protests were very common. Racial tension was everywhere and in Vietnam we didn’t know a thing about any of it. In 1967-68 the morale was good in Vietnam. We did our job without question and let time pass.
Sometime in the summer I had my sisters at home enroll me for college in the fall and I applied for an early release to get home in time to start school. I got an early release of six or seven days. It certainly was not what I expected. The helicopter that took a person out of the field to go home was called the freedom bird. I do not remember leaving the firebase for base camp to start the trip home. I don’t remember my own freedom bird. I did take time at base camp to order an eight track player for my car and home. I ordered a 35mm camera as well. I do not remember anything about the trip from base camp to Cam Ranh Bay or my time there. The night we departed from Vietnam busses were loaded and we were carried to the airstrip. Five charter planes were lined up on the tarmac. The planes were illuminated by flood lights. My thought was what a good target the planes were because they were so well lit. The busses began to unload in single file until one plane was loaded. The line then moved to the next plane until all five planes were loaded. I don’t recall which plane in order of takeoff I was on but I can clearly remember while our plane was waiting it was dead silence on board, not a whisper was said. When the thud sounded of the landing gears lifting off the ground the plane became a riot of cheers. Vietnam was behind me. I was on my way home. I hardly remember the trip back to the states.
At Ft. Lewis, I was returning from Nam and being discharged from the army at the same time. There was a lot of paper work and red tape. I couldn’t get it done fast enough. It took two days I think. I had slept very little since my trip home began. I was exhausted but I could not sleep. On the last day there we were given an option to stay a few days and get checked out or get in a line to go home. We all went home. My permanent records show that I had a separation physical. In fact they did not even take my temperature. I took the first bus to SeaTac Airport and booked the earliest flight to Dallas and then called Jackie to meet me at Love Field. My flight landed at midnight. When I called I had sent word to Jackie to be there at 10:00. My two friends were there to meet me with their dates. In 1968 the girls were out way past curfew. We took the girl’s home so it was about 3:00 in the morning when I got home. Everyone was there in the front yard to meet me. It was as if they hadn’t left the front yard since I left. We hugged and not a word was said about Vietnam. My parents have both passed away. Neither one ever ask me anything about Vietnam. The first thing I did was get out of my uniform and into my old clothes. I hung my uniform in the closet and hung the Army and Vietnam up with it….so I thought.
I went from Vietnam to sitting in a college classroom in about a week. It proved to be a bad decision. A college class wasn’t the best place for a Vietnam veteran to be. I couldn’t tell anyone where I had been. I wasn’t a very good student. My sisters had signed me up for a first aid class thinking it should be easy for an army medic. It should have been. Just a few weeks earlier I was making life and death decisions on the battlefield. I considered the class Mickey Mouse and instead of just giving the instructor the answers he wanted I would give field expedient answers just to give him a hard time. I almost failed a first aid class. I kept finding out that Vietnam was not over for me. I pushed old friends away for no good reason. Looking back through 60+ year old eyes I see how out-of-place and maladjusted I was. I had changed but back then I knew things were not the same and I couldn’t come to grips with it. I was fortunate that my family was my net when I was falling. I trusted very few people. I took needless chances. I made many, many bad decisions.
Continue to Chapter 11