post on returning from Vietnam
reminded me of my return forty seven years ago.
I arrived in Vietnam on February 6, 1968. We landed at Bien Hoa airport in early afternoon. Just as we were landing, the VC hit with rockets and mortars and the ammo dump on the far side of the field erupted in flame In order to protect the civilian plane (a Boeing 707) from damage, we were ordered to disembark immediately so the plane could take off. Soldiers who had already served their tour were waiting to board the "freedom flight" back to the world watched helplessly as the Boeing 707 took off without them. Their escape from hell would be delayed for several more hours.
In true army fashion, when we disembarked the plane we formed a line just off the flight line to pass through a gate to buses which would take us to the replacement center. The incoming line was beside a chain link fence about five feet high. On the other side of the fence a line was formed going the other way. This line consisted of the war worn GI's who were heading home after their tour.
I will never forget the look on their faces as they watched the plane take off. One guy had beads of sweat on his forehead and a hollow look in his eyes. It was not from the heat. I could only guess at his feelings since at that time I did not know what he had been through. Looking back now I can tell that you that his getting that close to your yearlong dream and goal and then seeing it fly away was devastating.
As is always the case, there was a smartass in the departing crowd. He came up to the fence and motioned for me to come over. I did and he bent over the fence as if to whisper to me the secret of survival in this war. With a long pause and me being a true "Cherry" and "FNG", he reached in his pocket and pulled out a wad of MPC (Military Payment Certificates or Funny Money) and handed it to me. What I thought was going to be a private secret conversation turned into a loud pronouncement. As I leaned in to hear him (I had not lost any hearing at that time), he practically shouted and said: "Look here buddy, I have this money left over, you may need it because I won't. I'm going F#%@ing home." Everyone on his side of the fence broke out in laughter except that one guy who just stood there watching the plane take off.
"Welcome to the Nam!!!
Flash forward 364 and a wake up. My Last Few Minutes in Vietnam:
Just before returning home from Vietnam, as I waited for the plane to land that would take us back to the world I bought a coke at the snack bar in the airport. When I got my change back, I realized that I had no need of the money. We were paid in MPC (military payment certificates) while in Vietnam and the money was no good anywhere except in Vietnam at military facilities.
When the plane landed, we all got ready to board but we had to wait for the plane to unload the new recruits. Just as had happened one year before when I arrived the new arrivals got off and walked down an aisle right by those of us who were about to board for the flight home. This was the full circle. I waited for them to unload and then went up to one of the new recruits and gave him about $5.00 in MPC that I had left. I told him that I would not need it where I was going but he might find a use for it.
Sure, it was a cruel thing to do. Sure, it probably made him feel like hell. Sure, I could just as well have kept the money for a souvenir. However, after a year of hell I wanted to gloat to someone that it was all but over for me. He looks up with a bewildered look not knowing what to say. He probably had never heard of MPC or realized what I was giving him. I noticed that all his buddies and him looked at my buddies and I with the same look that I had looked at those who waited to leave a year ago. This time there was no mortar attack and we did not have to wait long to board the plane. I got on the plane, found a place to sit, and looked out the window at hell for the what I hope was the last time. The nightmare was over for me
Updated February 1, 2019
BOY WAS I WRONG!
Not a day has passed in the last 50 years that I have not had a passing thought, both good and bad, of that year so long ago. It took most of those 50 years for me to put things in the proper perspective. Those memories now always give me a sense of resolve that I represent all those who never had the privilege of boarding the Freedom Bird and looking out the window one last time. Those poor souls returned in the cargo section of a military plane or ship. It is for us surviving veterans to keep their sacrifice alive in our memory, words and deeds.
For most of us it was the demarcation line between boys and men not because of the machoism of combat but the bonding of brotherly love formed under difficult circumstances and the admonition that was expressed so eloquently in Saving Private Ryan. "Earn this... Earn it!"
"The Long Gray Line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses, thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country.
This does not mean that you are warmongers. On the contrary, the soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers:
"Only the dead have seen the end of war."
Douglas MacArthur at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., May 12, 1962,