Sunday, January 04, 2009

04 January 1972

As the sun rose on the east coast this morning, I returned from Vietnam, landing at Dulles Airport. I had been in transit for about 30 hours, leaving Bien Hoa Air Base around mid evening (local time) on the 2nd and arriving in San Francisco about two hours later (local time) after a 14 to 16 hour flight. By noon on the 3rd, I was discharged from the Army and headed to SFO, still wearing a uniform to qualify for reduced airfare. My flight east wasn't scheduled to late in the evening so I killed time drinking with a guys from my unit who returned on the same Freedom Bird.

By the time I boarded my flight I was pretty spaced out from travel, time change, alcohol and ennui. If I slept at all, it was fitful. I recall spending part of the flight in the back of the plane talking with an staff sergeant in military intelligence although none of the conversation comes back to me.

After landing at Dulles, I took the charter bus to National Airport. On the way, I couldn't help but notice that everything seemed so normal, like the war didn't even exist. Everyone was going about their business, their daily commute just like everyday with no thought to rocket attacks, ambushes or claymore mines. I wanted to scream at them all but mostly, I sat silent. Everything changed when I met my girl friend at National. She had taken the day off to meet me.

I was home. Vietnam was behind me. Back then, I didn't give much thought to the fact that Vietnam would never leave me. On that day, I tasted the sweetest victory I had ever known. I was alive and whole.

Thirty seven years later, that day is still very real to me. The victory is tarnished by years of anger, shame and remorse not to mention all the subsequent wars my country has fought since. I call it the price of survival.



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