Letters: ‘Thank you for your service’
I find it awkward when someone says “thank you for your service.”
I usually mumble some thanks back, and move on. These words almost always come from people who did not serve, and while respectfully rendered, it always made me squirm. I don’t 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 Fort Lewis Washington hours after leaving a fire base, some after walking point on a patrol, still attempting to wash that blood off of our hands.
Then, we were on the streets in civies a few hours later with some travel pay to make our way back to California to go home. 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 usually accompanied by jumping in a liquor bottle, 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. 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 possibly softer toned colors, instead of the garish bright reds and oranges that they brought home with them. However, 50 years later some of us are still there at times in our head seeing those bright colors.
We did come home, but part of us stayed there and we know we will never get that part back. A part of me died over there. A kind gentleness emerged as we sought out our brothers from long ago only to find or remembering that they did not make it home at all. They paid the ultimate sacrifice.
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 wore one there.
I am not saying this to get respect, pity or a “thank you.” I am just saying, when you come across one of my brothers that did make it home, thank them for being in that hell-hole. They didn’t ask to be there. Remember, we were only 18 or 19 years old when we went there and will be fighting the war in our heads for the rest of our lives.
They can’t see the disability we share because it is in our heads.
Please copy, share or just post this to let everyone know how we really feel.
The following I read somewhere: “Vietnam vibrates like a chord from a minor key, constantly humming in the back of my heart....” — anonymous
— Royal Goodman,
1st Cav., 9th Infantry