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Robert Flournoy



 
Copyright 2022 by Robert Flournoy   
 

Photo by Suzy Turbenson on Unsplash
                                       Photo by Suzy Turbenson on Unsplash

I find it awkward when someone says "thank you for your service".  I usually mumble some thanks back, and with averted eyes, move on.  These words almost always come from people who did not serve, and while respectfully rendered, they make me squirm a little bit. I do not know why. But, a "welcome home" salutation is a universal greeting almost always from a fellow veteran. I smile and return the thanks with those same two words. Welcome home are bonding words that have grown over the years from aging vets who, when looking back, remembered coming home from Vietnam so long ago with a bewildering, sudden, thud. Many of us arrived in Oakland 12 hours after leaving a fire base, some after walking point on a patrol, still wearing the red dirt of that duty, and were on the streets in civies a few hours later with some travel pay to make their way back to Ohio, Alabama or New Jersey. And when the hugs and tears of our families were done with, we would look around us, somewhat bewildered, with a head full of "what now"?  Ensuing nights filled with mind sounds of popping flares, the hammering of an M-60, the constant boom of artillery and the whop whop whop of Hueys coming and going, left us dazed and confused to have left all that behind so suddenly. Many of us sunk into silence, most tried to explain our experience to uncomprehending parents, and spouses, and so many sought the solace of fellow vets at the local VFW or Legion Hall, usually accompanied by liquor which too frequently led to loud, aggressive behavior.  And how many of us wanted to go back?  Back to the jungle, to the fire bases that we hated, but where like minded men with singular purpose treated us like brothers, silent respect and understanding hanging over us like a warm blanket. Our home comings were, all too frequently, the beginnings of frustration and despair. Yet, most just moved on, putting it all behind.  But, however we all might have handled the home coming, there was never a welcome home feeling from our country much less the people who never served. We didn't look for it, expect it, or even think about it. It was a non issue. So,  Vietnam vets became an obscurity in the landscape of America, an awkward presence that most vets acknowledged with their own silence. But, decades later, when old ghosts started creeping out of their closets, and the wisdom of age made its way into their reflections, combat veterans from the Vietnam war began remembering their experiences in softer toned colors, instead of the garish bright reds and oranges that they brought home with them. A kind gentleness emerged as they sought out their brothers from long ago. The greeting "welcome home" emerged not as a resentful "we never got a proper welcome", but simply as a soft nod of the head to those who made it back so long ago.  Two simple words that belong exclusively to them and their kin, brothers who know as only they can know.  Those men own those words, another right shoulder patch seen only by those who also wear one there.

" Vietnam vibrates like a chord from a minor key, constantly humming in the back of my heart...."  anonymous 


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