Monday, May 28, 2012

Coming Home

It was the late 1960's, and I was in the second grade. The day was already laced with excitement because we were all going to the airport to meet my grandfather, coming home from one of his assignments in Venezuela for Shell Oil.

In the days before TSA, and especially in small airports like this one, people could wait very close to the runway in small sheltered areas. Steps would be rolled up to the door of the airplane and passengers would descend and walk across the pavement and into the terminals.

As my siblings, cousins and I followed my grandmother, my parents, and various aunts and uncles into the airport to the passenger pick up area, I noticed a group of three or four men already in the passenger pickup area. They seemed old to me because they had scraggly beards, but they were probably no further out than their early twenties. They had long hair and wore clothes unlike any of the men in my family.

My mother cautioned the kids to keep close and not to wander off as we settled in to wait.

The first plane that landed looked to me like an amazingly graceful, alien bird, setting down with an ease that belied its size. My grandmother had already told us it was not my grandfather's plane, but it was a wondrous thing to watch as the heavy door swung open and passengers filed down the steps into the intense sunlight.

Some stretched, some moved quickly, and some seemed to be a little afraid of the steps as they picked their ways gingerly down. One man towards the end of the line of passengers had a short haircut like my college football player uncle. He wore a uniform which my 10 year old cousin, Mike,  excitedly told us was a Marine's uniform. Mike had wanted to be a Marine almost since he was old enough to talk, and he was our military expert.

The soldier paused just past the bottom of the steps leading from the plane, looked around as if he were taking in a deep, satisfying drink of his surroundings and dropped to his knees on the tarmac. He set his duffel bag aside, placed both palms flat on the ground and lowered his face to the pavement. What he did next made no sense to me then, but he touched that hot, tarry concrete with his lips and kissed it. He slowly pulled himself back to his feet, retrieved his bag and made his way to the area where we all awaited.

The shaggy men we had seen earlier stirred themselves as they saw him pass through the waist high, aluminum gate that separated us from the runways. I thought they were his family, there to pick him up. My older cousins and I were close enough to see the military man had streaks of tears making a trail down his cheeks.

 As the soldier neared them, though, the long haired, bearded men contorted and twisted their faces, spewing words at him with the venom of rattlesnakes. "How many babies did you kill over there?" one snarled.

"You're a murderer!" another with the long hair stridently interjected.

The soldier only looked straight ahead as he worked through the press of people.

What happened next is seared indelibly into my core. Another of those bearded men suddenly flung his head forward and ejected a stream of spit that landed squarely on the Marine's cheek, who recoiled as if he'd been slapped. His eyes widened and the skin on his face burned red, but he made no reply as he continued his journey through all the waiting people.

As he walked, the soldier pulled out a handkerchief and wiped the spittle off his face, never breaking stride as he drew close to us. His eyes looked sad and haunted.

My cousin Mike did it first, and then all of us in our group of siblings and cousins followed suit.

We each stood as tall as we could, hands drawn up to our foreheads in our best renditions of a shaky salute.

He paused and looked at each of us. He said not a word as he dropped his duffel bag, drew himself to attention, and snapped off a sharp salute to us before making his way out of the airport.

As I remember and honor those who gave their lives in wars popular and unpopular, I also remember those who came home from those wars and had to fight even more battles here.

To them all, thank you; a million times, thank you.

61 comments:

  1. amen; thanking each and every one of them. This story brought tears to my eyes, Shelly. So sad we (collectively) treated soldiers from that time like that. So sad we (collectively) didn't appreciate the fact they were doing what they were made to do and the majority of them were so very young. What an honorable thing your family did for this fine young man. Did Mike become a Marine?

    betty

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    1. Although I wasn't really old enough then to fully inderstand what was going on, it horrifies me today. They deserve so much better. And Mike ended up becoming a pilot, although not in the military~

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  2. I am reminded of the lyrics to Paul Hardcastle's "Nineteen":

    << All those who remember the war
    They won't forget what they've seen
    Destruction of men in their prime
    Whose average was 19
    Dedededededede-Destruction
    Dedededededede-Destruction

    According to a Veteran's Administration study
    Half of the Vietnam combat veterans suffered from what Psychiatrists call
    Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder
    Many vets complain of alienation, rage, or guilt
    Some succumb to suicidal thoughts
    Eight to Ten years after coming home almost eight hundred thousand men
    Are still fighting the Vietnam War

    None of them received a heroes welcome >>

    It's a complex issue, Shelly. I joined antiwar rallies on the campus of Penn State. When the draft lottery was activated my number could have been drawn. I could have been sent to Vietnam like so many other guys my age. I got lucky. The quota was filled some 25 numbers short of mine. Yet, to this day, I have survivor's remorse.

    I despise war and violence but there comes a time when it becomes necessary for the greater good. It is very much like the tough decision you and your family face as violent thugs cross the border and threaten your safety and security.

    I believe that we compound the atrocity of war when we blame, disrespect, punish, neglect or forget those who served their country on the battlefield. Their sacrifices are incalculable.

    I also believe that our greatest leaders are not the rhetoric spouting warmongers. They are the ones who speak softly and use the art of diplomacy to keep the peace.

    "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate." - John F. Kennedy

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    1. Shady: I, too, hate violence and war with a passion. However, as you said, when forced into it, we should fight with all that is in us and honor those who serve so nobly. I am very thankful you didn't have to go and fight. I know why so many came back broken not just in body, but in soul, too.

      I long for the day when war is obsolete.

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  3. I honestly have tears in my eyes and chillbumps on my skin. This was beautiful, Shelly. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Kelley: Thank you, and I so enjoyed your post today about your husband's grandfather and his bravery. We are a blessed nation.

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  4. Wow. This is the most amazing post. Written beautiful and the touching very moving words really got to me. I hope and pray that these soldiers and all others know how much they really are appreciated today, for the amazing sacrifice they and their families made/make.

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    1. Melody-Mae: Thank you, and I truly hope that every citizen will make room in their hearts to honor these incredibly brave people.

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  5. This is such a powerful post. Sometimes war is necessary and sometimes it is probably a mistake but regardless of how we feel about the decisions made by our government, we should honor those who bravely serve this country. They risk life, limb and peace of mind to do so and get very little in return and that is the true definition of Hero in my book. Some lose their lives doing it and some endure far greater challenges as survivors. No soldier should have to return home from war and be ridiculed. The thought of it makes me so sad. I'm glad you and your siblings and cousins respected and saluted that soldier. Your parents raised you right!! I hope it made a difference to him that day and helped soften the blow of disrespect and unappreciation. I'm a boho hippy at heart but I'd never do such a thing. I know those shaggy men were young and idealistic but I hope they grew up and developed respect and now realize what's up! My dad was spit on when he came home from Vietnam. I cry when I imagine him so young, having served by choice not because he was drafted. He earned a Purple Heart but was never able to take pride in his service. It's really a shame what so many of those young men endured.

    Thank you for sharing this story. It's important for people to hear. You are truly a gem, Shelly! I hope you and your family have a happy and safe Memorial Day.

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    1. Jenn June: My heart aches at what your dad and the others like him had to go through, both at war and then when they arrived home. I so hope we have learned a lesson as a nation from the horrible way these people were treated. Never again!

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  6. That was a precious thing you all did for that soldier that day. It truly is a lonely feeling being thousands of miles away from family especially during the holidays and I remember the feeling of pride when my feet touched US soil. Thank you my friend.

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    1. Odie, I thought of you especially as I was writing this. Thank you, friend, for all of you sacrifices.

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  7. This is such a sad story of stupidity and honor. Even though I was against the Viet Nam War from the time I was a teenager, I always respected (and dated) the soldiers. How anyone could blame them for any war is beyond me. They are there to protect us if and when we are attacked and I appreciate that so much! I don't agree with most wars our governments get involved in, but we must have a military or other countries would just come in and take us over.

    I did once meet a solder on a Greyhound bus who was on his way home from the war. I was 17 and on my way to Canada. We had a great time together until he came to his small home town. I hope I made his homecoming a happy one.

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    1. Belle: I agree with you, that some people directed their anger at the war to the wrong people, including the soldiers, when it should have been directed at the lawmakers. I'll bet you did help that fellow on the bus have a happy homecoming. Too bad there weren't more like you~

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  8. Well, Shelly, I'm a complete mess. This post really made me cry, and then I read it out loud to Matt and my older girls and could barely read it for crying. When I finished my girls had tears in their eyes too. It was a very good teaching moment. Thank you for that. We join you today in gratitude for all of those brave men and women who have given so much for this country.

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    1. Nancy: Oh, it still hurts my heart to think how some of those soldiers were treated when they came home. I hope that was the last generation of returning soldiers to ever be treated that way. There's just no excuse for it~

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  9. Tears here, too, Shelly! Two words come to mind, downright meaness and ignorance. Also your story illustrates such love for our country by the kissing of the ground. Just yesterday morning I was listening to a sermon on anger. As I type this I am having to remember what I learned yesterday. As a matter of fact, we are living in such an angry world. Thank you for sharing this lest we forget.

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    1. Cindy: I really do hope it was just idealized ignorance on the parts of those guys. To treat someone so badly who had been through such hellish times...there aren't words. You are right about our angry world.

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  10. This made me cry...........but I always get upset when I read about those assholes who treated the returned servicemen with such disrespect.........just because they didn't agree with the war these young men were just doing their job to me if you weren't there you don't know so just shut the hell up.........

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    1. Jo-Anne: I totally agree. I try to make up for those horrible wrongs these days by doing little things. If we see service people in airport restaurants, we might pay for their meal, or just tell them thank you. I also pray for those soldiers who had to endure such terrible treatment when they got home. They didn't deserve any of it.

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  11. Oh, Dearest Shelly,
    Yes, I have no idea that how big the sacrifice for these young ones must have had. I remember seen the scene kissing on the mother land on TV. What a touching post and thank you for sharing.
    Japanese young solders must have dedicated their lives to the country and also the emperor. I heard that they supposed to say "banzai" to the Emperor when they were in Kamikaze and so on. I don't know how much traumatic experiences my father had, as he is or was (haha, considering his situation now) really reticent. I always wonder how his character had been before the war.
    Oh, what a scene!!! Like others, I have lost my words, in tears and I don't know how they must have felt.
    Human being; would it be the silliest creature for the face of the world.....

    Love you always, xoxo Miyako*

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    1. Orchid: Yes, my dear friend Miyako, you are so right. War changes the warriors, and I think those of us who haven't ever fought in battle cold understand the depth and complexity of those changes. My heart still breaks for those who were abused at home. God bless your precious father. Hugs and love to you, my friend~

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  12. Amen, Shelly! Good for you and your cousins! That probably meant so much to him. My brother, too, came home from Vietnam haunted and was tormented by those who not only opposed the war (which many did) but also reviled those who served -- many of whom, including my brother, who had been drafted. It took many years for him to get over the trauma of war, but even more time for him to get over the thoughtless brutality of those who stayed safely home and yet felt entitled to judge. You're so right that on this Memorial Day, we should remember with gratitude not only those who gave their lives in wars, but also all of those who served.

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    1. Dr. Kathy: I just can't get over the fact that the ones who were the ugliest, the most cruel in their attacks on our returning military were the ones who never served. I am so grateful for those like your brother who served and served well.

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  13. The Marine was a hero, and so was Mike and his cousins!
    Blessings.
    David

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    1. vanilla: I still think about that Marine and hope his life turned out well. Thank you~

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    2. Your post gave me goosebumps as well as tears Shelly.
      What a beautiful thing your family did for the brave Marine. My heart goes out to the men and women who serve, fight and give their lives for our country.

      Without them we wouldn't have the freedoms that we enjoy!

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    3. Saimi: I will forever be grateful to them~

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  14. What a powerful post! It brought tears to my eye. I can't even imagine what the soldier felt as he walked through the terminal. Was it anticipation of being in the arms of loved ones? Did he feel sadness or hatred at the sneers and hurtful words? I wish I could've been there to witness the respect and honor that you all gave to him. This was a beautiful post!

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    1. Simone: I'm sure he dreamed of home many times while he was away, and then to encounter what he did still hurts my heart. I hope and pray he's had a good life at home.

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  15. Oh Shelly, what a heartbreaking story. We need to honor those that fight because they are trying to protect us. Leave the politics to the politicians.

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  16. What a story. I have tears in my eyes and a gratitude in my heart. Thank you so much for posting this touching story, and thank you to Deb from Sweet Tea for making sure that I got to read it. :)

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    1. Kelli: Thank you so much for stopping by. I feel deeply about these veterans who came home to such ill treatment. And I appreciate Debbie for putting it on FB~

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  17. Tears in my eyes too , Shelly, for such a powerful and beautifully written post, and what a lovely thing you all did for that Marine. I also hate war, and it is so desperately sad how soldiers are still suffering now after all this time. For us, it is the 30th Anniversary of the Falklands War and it has been heartbreaking, watching the interviews with those that survived. Great post for your Memorial Day and we should all honour these brave men and women, so many young ones who have lost their lives in the latest conflict in Afghanistan.

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    1. Thisisme: I well remember when the Falklands War commenced. Hard to believe it's already been 30 years. I will always have the greatest admiration, respect, and honor for those who go off to fight a war as their government directs. They are the true heroes.

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  18. Tears in my eyes too , Shelly, for such a powerful and beautifully written post, and what a lovely thing you all did for that Marine. I also hate war, and it is so desperately sad how soldiers are still suffering now after all this time. For us, it is the 30th Anniversary of the Falklands War and it has been heartbreaking, watching the interviews with those that survived. Great post for your Memorial Day and we should all honour these brave men and women, so many young ones who have lost their lives in the latest conflict in Afghanistan.

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  19. What those bearded men did was not cool.
    Most of us hate wars, but it is not the fault of soldiers or even veterans. We live very close to West Point and here in Orange County Memorial day is more than just a three day weekend.
    Purple heart hall of Fame is round the bend. It is a very sober reminder of people who gave their lives in line of duty.

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    1. Munir: It is heartening to hear that Memorial Day is truly commemorated for what it is, and not just a three day weekend. You all do it right~

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  20. Oh I hate that - I really do. I was in the era of Viet Nam myself. I remember the boys coming back and I wonder if it happens in every war. Love, sandie

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    1. Sandie: I so hope we have learned since then. No returning soldier deserves that.

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  21. What a wonderful thing you children did for that Marine. I hope he had a supportive family waiting for him.

    I'm a Canadian, but one of my cousins, whom we loved like a brother when he and his mom visited every summer, was born in the US and was drafted to Viet Nam. He was never the same afterward. I'm sure many more were like that. It is sad what war can take from soldiers - and their families - even if their lives are spared.

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    1. Jenny_O: I so hope he had wonderful people awaiting him, as well as a good life to settle into.

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  22. What an amazing memory. Your write so beautifully I felt as though I could see the whole thing.

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    1. Missed Periods: There are many things I have forgotten in this life, but I think I will always remember that day.

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  23. My eyes are filled with tears. I am so grateful to our brave soldiers for all they have done for our great nation. I am sorry for the pains they have had to bear both on the battle field and off. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    I always know that when I come here I will be uplifted. Thank you for that as well.

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    1. Crystal: Thank you for your kind words. Those brave soldiers deserve so much on their returns home. I hope we as a nation have learned since then.

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  24. Sad isn't it? This man's freedom to spit was given by the one he spat upon! Isn't it the same with Jesus Christ...many spit upon His Truths and it is the very source of freedom for them.....so enjoyed the reading and where it took me this morning....More Gratitude for my freedom!

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    1. Rhonda: So true! A perfect correlation!

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  25. oh my gosh! I got goose bumps!! I will add those people who degraded those soldiers to my prayer list.

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    1. Annmarie Pipa: I hate war, but we should never target the soldiers, who are there at the government's bidding. I join you in praying for folks like that.

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  26. Perfectly told, Shelly. I got goosebumps with this one.

    I would never denigrate a returning soldier.

    Now GOVERNMENTS. :-) I take joy in denigrating some governments. :-)

    Hugs,

    Pearl

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    1. Pearl: I'm with you, friend, all the way with you!

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  27. WoW! Very touching Shelly. Blessings to you dear one.

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  28. You did a lovely thing that day, Shelley.

    I salute you. Your post is inspiring.

    Riya

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    1. Riya: Thank you! I find stories of sacrifice like that of soldiers quite moving~

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  29. I am speechless. I know there was a lot of nastiness towards Vietnam Vets...more than any other war, I believe..
    So cruel!! As if they didn't go through enough, without anyone spitting and spewing venom.

    Ray is going through a hard time. He has been trying to get his full pension from the V.A. for five years. Continually they send letters asking for the same information, over and over. Its like they are trying to wear him down, and they are!!He drinks all the time.. doesn't eat properly, is forever on the computer playing games..He sits there staring. He has lost more weight. It has started to get to me now also. People don't realise how it hurts and harms the wife. They fight for their country, then come home to be forgotten.. Please write more on this subject, I appreciate your caring. Love Crystal xx

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    1. Crystal: I am so very sorry for the frustrating and debilitating battle you all are having to go through. It is infuriating to think about, especially knowing what Ray and others already went through in the service of their country.

      Has he talked with any of his legislators here? A colleague just had a major breakthrough in her father's case after many years of trying because after much persistance, she finally caught the ear of a congressman, and full benefits were restored. This legislator is from Oklahoma, but perhaps I can see if he has other contacts from Ray's home state.

      Please tell Ray I am praying for what is rightfully his to be given to him, and that there are untold millions of us who appreciate whole heartedly his sacrifices.

      I'm also praying for you, my friend. You are Ray's lifeline right now, and I know that must be such a singularly lonely and frustrating place. You are such a Godly woman and I am praying a special strength, grace, and rest for you. Please email me if you ever need an ear or a shoulder.

      Hugs and love to you~

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  30. Your posts always make me smile :)
    God bless you .

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    1. izdiher: You are always so very kind to me- thank you, friend, and may God bless you, too!

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