A Soldier’s Return

Don't Blame the Men and Women

My good  friend and author Al Boudreau has called me a romantic, which he meant and I take as a compliment. Life does different things to people as they grow. Some turn dark from the light and others turn light from the dark. I guess my soul chose light.

Another good friend and author Zee Gorman, whom I met on a book site started me thinking about my life. One day I mentioned that I had fought in Vietnam. Zee was a child living in a small village in China near the border of Vietnam during that period. Slowly I opened wounds of my past and she talked about something I knew nothing about. As a child she stood by the roadside and cheer returning soldiers who had also fought in Vietnam. I received a much different reception.

I’m writing this introduction to my next little story in hopes that anyone who has ever protested war might think differently of the people in uniform when they pass by. Protesting against whatever a government is doing should be a right for those who disagree. I am not a proponent of war. The soldiers are not to blame.

This little story has sat for over a year waiting. It took me years to finally write it. Even though it is a simple thing it allowed me to give thought and relief from the past. I don’t look for anything from this story except possibly to give you a view of the past. Please enjoy:

A Soldier’s Return

Years have flown—not nearly as fast as they might—since the war many people don’t remember came to a sputtering conclusion. It still seems to be a dirty word for most today, but it was real and touched so many lives… for good and bad.

I played my part- although only a tiny cog in a giant wheel of governments—and my pride in serving grows stronger with the passing years. I served in Vietnam in the U.S. Army.

I was a young man looking for more… or perhaps it was only a bit of excitement. There was no fear, only a need to get away to some foreign land. I didn’t serve with the feverous intent of going to war but with a foreknowledge of how my family had done their duty in the past.

I was young and trained and naïve. I grew up in the South and from my first day of boot-camp I began to learn of how others thought of southerners. I heard words I had never heard before, but at the same time I found friends that seemed to want to protect me.

One man whose nickname was Soul was a young black man from the gangs of Philadelphia. What an odd combination we were, but no one dared say the wrong thing to Soul. I still have no idea what he saw in me but he did give me a completely different outlook on northerners, black people and what friendship was all about. We lost contact soon after training but he stays in my thoughts.

This is not a ‘war story’ and there will be no feats of valor or atrocities to convey a sense of indignation or pride. I did what I was asked to do and that, for me, was enough.

I landed in Vietnam in darkness and three men from the large group that arrived were hustled off and separated from the rest. We rode through the darkened countryside with a grunt manning an M-60 machinegun mounted to the jeep.

I spent my first two day in country at Davis Station in Saigon and I had my first encounter with the people of Vietnam. A young girl walked into the room where I sat and she captured me with her eyes and smile. I wondered if these were the people I was sent to fight– I hoped not.

The war like so many others was filled with work and sweat, massive boredom and intense actions. I don’t use the word fear because I was young and there just wasn’t any fear in me that would last. Our unit destroyed and saved lives and my part was so minor it’s not worth mentioning. I did not slug through the jungles— there actually wasn’t that much jungle and Viet Nam was a beautiful country. I worked on aircraft—the likes few people got to see. We were in contact with the real warriors: Special Forces, Navy SEALs, LRRPs and the rest.

I recently met, through the internet, a great woman writer that grew up in China not far from the border of North Vietnam and we have become friends—sharing stories of our childhood and growing up. I’m a writer now and it is so nice to be able to discuss the trials of writing with a peer. I’ll call this woman Red Child, from the translation of her name. I immediately liked her name—being a little Cherokee myself, although her name was an honorific of the struggles of China at the time. We exchanged many stories and one time I brought up the fact that I was in Vietnam during the war. I was hoping not to offend her but that part of my life had such an effect of me I wanted to share it as I never had before.

The funny part was that she too shared about her life at the time I was in the area. She told me about the many times, as a child, everyone from the village would rush out to road when soldiers were returning from doing their part in fighting. It was a happy time for the children and they were so proud of the men who did what they must to help their neighbor.

I found it to be poignant but also intriguing to hear a voice from the other side of what was going on. She spoke with no thought of the conflict or that I may have been in some small way responsible for the injured that return—I don’t think it entered her mind and to tell the truth it only niggled at mine. It was a great story of childhood and I did enjoy reading about life in a strange and wondrous place.

After that one correspondence I opened up feelings I have long held back—from myself—and told her of my return to my country—the land that I served with pride and duty.

I flew into San Francisco and was taken to a nearby base to receive my Army Greens because of the season. I was then sent off to the airport with ticket in hand, filled with the joy of returning to my family. From the time I stepped in to the civilian world of this modern airport I felt animosity coming from many of the people I passed. I wore my uniform with ribbons and strips on both sleeves showing my time of service and my time of being in a combat zone. I didn’t understand. Of course I had seen reports and TV of the protest going on at the time but why would someone be angry at me?

At one point I stopped to get a drink of water from a fountain and heard the click of heels behind me. I turned to look upon a long-haired kid giving me a hitler salute and then he spat on me. I was dumbfounded at first but then told him in no uncertain terms to get away from me—He complied but he called me names that made no sense. And what really confused me was the other people standing around seemed to agree with him. I felt completely alone.

I kept a low-profile until I was safely on the plane to take me home. On the flight, which again was at night, I was seated beside a high ranking Army officer and he bought me a drink to welcome me home. We talked little, after all I was only an E-5, an enlisted man, but at one point during the flight I looked across him out the window and saw flashes in the night sky. It looked exactly like an artillery barrage in the distances and I leaned over the officer trying to figure out what was happening. The officer chuckled, grabbed my shoulder and ease me back to my seat and said, “It’s just heat-lightening, son. Nothing to worry about.” I smiled at him and began to relax. I was home!

When I finally arrive at the Charlotte airport my family was waiting with signs and love and no one held me in judgment. Even the neighbors had put out signs and helped in my joy of returning to the place of my childhood. A child no longer.

14 responses to “A Soldier’s Return

  1. It’s difficult to imagine a man with a bigger heart than you, Dannie. Your story was both touching and sad at the same time.

    War continues today, and our troops go off to foreign lands, likely for the same reasons you did: duty to country, family, and to explore a different life. I am happy to say, however, that our soldiers do not come back to the reception you had in San Francisco.

    In 2007, a stretch of one of Canada’s major highways was renamed to “Highway of Heroes,” in honour of Canada’s fallen servicemen and servicewomen. This length of the highway is often travelled by a convoy of vehicles carrying a fallen soldier’s body, with his or her family, and crowds have lined the overpasses to pay their respects as convoys pass. This has been happening since 2002 when fallen soldiers started returning from Afghanistan. It is fitting for the dead that we should pay our respects in this way, regardless of our feelings about the war.

    In Canada, protests against the war efforts are no longer aimed at the soldiers, nor should they ever have been. There was a lot of ignorance around it that took years to understand, and in your case, protesters chose the easy targets because the soldiers were the face of the war, and the “powers that be” were untouchable. It’s not to excuse it, but there was definitely a lack of compassion in the world then with an “us versus them” mentality. I wonder how that long-haired kid who spat on you would feel about his actions today.

    For what you’ve been through, Dannie, you are definitely a shining light, and I couldn’t be prouder to know you.


  2. Dear Eden. You are always one person I can count on to read and enjoy my work. Thank you so much for your touching comment!
    Yes. I am thankful that today our warriors aren’t the tip of the sword in receiving the anger of protestors.
    I worked in a job that brought me in contact with soldiers on their way to war. It actually brought a tear to watch the send off our citizens gave them and I was given the chance to personally give some my best wishes, prayers and tell them of my pride for what they were sacrificing. My daughter was one of those who went. Now I have two sons involved in the eastern theater supporting out men and women from many countries.
    I wrote this because I see more and more people protesting the governments actions– and I support their right to do just that. I just wanted to say to them– Don’t blame the men and women who serve.
    That was such a beautiful story about the Highway of Heroes! I have always loved Canadians and now even more! It is a road I would love to see!

    • Dannie,

      Thanks for your response. In the end, the Highway of Heroes is just a road, but its symbolism for the families who’ve lost loved ones cannot be diminished. I’m very proud as a Canadian to have this symbol of remembrance.

      Here’s a blog entry that was posted by an American this past Canada Day I thought you might find interesting and explains a bit more of the history, along with some pictures as well. If you watch the video though, be prepared, you’ll need some tissue close by. xoxox eden


      • Thank you, Eden. That is a most touching tribute you Canadians give your fallen and it did leave a lump in my throat. I will remember next July 1st as Canada Day and give thanks for a great neighbor. I enjoyed Fenway’s blog site.

  3. Dannie,

    First and foremost, I want to thank you for your service in the military. When I hear people making ridiculous comments about our military (thankfully, it’s not often), my body temperature rises and my face probably turns a little red. I am a huge supporter of our military; my brother served in the first Gulf War and I have several other family members who also served in the military, including Vietnam.

    You say it well, Dannie. The soldiers are not to blame. Whether we support the war or not, we are all entitled to our own beliefs and opinions, but we should always support the men and women who bravely risk their lives every day, even if we don’t agree with the leaders in our government who make the decisions of whether or not we go to war. The military does not have a political sign attached to it. These fine men and women in our military are doing an excellent job, they do it proudly and with honor, and I applaud them for it. God bless the men and women (and their families) in our military.

    Thank you so much for posting this and I look forward to reading your book.

    Take care, my friend.

    ~ Rob

  4. Thanks for your great comment, Rob. I do agree with everything you said. My family has served in every war as far back as we can follow. That is a source of pride for me. It took the blood of our young men and women to gain our freedom and I’m sure it will require the same to keep it.
    Thanks for stopping by, Rob. I really enjoy your blog.

  5. I was in the Peace Corps from 2002 to 2004 so I missed the worst of the Iraq war protests, but one thing I noticed when I returned to Montana in December of 2004 was that despite the war’s unpopularity almost every car had a “Support Our Troops” sticker or magnet on it. I asked a few people, and even the ones who were against the war said it was important to distinguish between the hard-working men and women who serve in the military and the ones who actually make the decisions regarding where our forces were sent. I thought that was pretty cool, and it’s a sentiment I certainly agree with.

    I can’t believe you were spit on, and I’m so glad more people of my generation have a better understanding of the realities of conflict. I guess what I’m trying to say is that hippies are dumb.

    • I agree with you about the new attitude. Now with the war getting more and more unpopular I just don’t want to see sentiment turned against out troops. I don’t think it will. We have learned a lot since Vietnam. Thank you for your comments, Andy. I’ve been reading your adventure in the Peace Corp in Africa and am really enjoying some of the things you went through.

  6. Awesome Dannie,
    I think we were on the same freedom bird back to the states and I think we saw the same protester a San Francisco International – I don’t know if he was gutsy, high, or obsessed with a death wish.
    Like you, I come from a long line of men who served in wars. Those conflicts include WWI, Korea, and WWII.
    I only mention that to say this, my father was in WWII. I’ve been told that he was the chief sonar mate on a number of submarines in the south pacific. I know this for sure, he never talked about it. When I came home from Vietnam the first time, my wife, mother, and father met me at the airport in Jacksonville. As soon as daddy and I were alone, I blurted out, OK, now I know what war is all about. Tell me your experiences. He stared at me a long time, then said, “Vietnam isn’t a war. I was in a real war and there’s nothing for us to talk about.”
    So I didn’t talk for almost thirty years – until I organized a group of Vietnam Veterans in Fort Payne, Alabama, a month after Desert Shield became Desert Storm.
    Thanks for reliving the trip home and sharing it. There are a lot of us still around who needed to hear it.
    Yours to count on,

    • So good to hear from you, Bert! My dad was in the Pacific in the Army. Made seven first wave landings and he too didn’t have much to say about what went on. After the service I lived on an Island in the pacific where Marines and Army came ashore. The island is 3 and a half miles long and a half mile wide. Over 7000 people, mostly Japanese, died on that tiny place. My dad didn’t asked me much about my part but I know he held me in high regard for my service.

      I know about some of the things you are doing for veterans and others and it’s a real privledge to have you comment here.

      Believe it or not. One of the secret planes I worked on is in a museum at Ft Rucker. If you ever get there look for the ‘Crazycat’ It’ll be the biggest thing there.

      I would like to add that Bert and his wife Christina work hard helping others and Bert is a first rate author.

  7. Dannie – first of all I can’t believe I wasn’t already signed up for your blog – I have visited more than once. Thank you for nudging me over here. You know I’m a big fan of IN SEARCH OF A SOUL, and I realized when reading it that you must have been through hell during your tour of duty. This small bit of the next story made me cry – just as your book did. Cry for what you went through and what should not have been. I am of the Vietnam Veteran era but I was only touched through others no direct loss. That does relieve my sense of sorrow for all who went there and all that happened there. I can’t think of the Wall without tears. So, besides telling you this is also beautifully written, let me say thank you from an American who benefitted and I’m sorry from one who didn’t do enough for the returning soldiers.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Kathy. I didn’t write this for any kind of sympathy. I only wanted to purge a bit more. I’m sorry and glad that you cried. I do as well when I write and read. My part in war was not the things Douglas did but I was near and aware. I’ve been alone this past week in ‘hiding’ while I begin working on the finish of another manuscript. My wife allows me this time of solitude. I was sitting last night thinking it was a bad idea to post this story and be alone, but I looked to the comments and know I’m not alone. Thank you so much.

      I have said this before about you. You bought my book, In Search of a Soul, without knowing me and then poured out you feeling about it to many others. You are a writer’s dream reader and that book was written for you! I wrote it during a dark angry period. I was angry at agents and publishers and I was determind to show them I could do something beautiful with words. It worked and the light returned and I gave no more care to those that called my work simple and easy to read.

      It is individuals like you that I write for. You are a good writer as well! Thank you, Kathy.

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