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    • Donald Sanders

    • December 28, 2016 in Columnists

    Coming home: Don’t thank me for my service

    This afternoon I stopped at a red light on Mason Street in Vacaville where I witnessed a small group of people greeting a young soldier. With all the hugs and kisses, this type of heartwarming scene is pretty common for those soldiers coming home these days. Soldiers returning home from wars are as old as history, maybe older. She looked so smart in her camouflage uniform, her hair tied in a bun below a red beret. I could see she was crying as I drove away.

    I couldn’t get it out of my mind all day and I’m still feeling a little emotional for the sight of it. Her homecoming was so different from what I experienced when I came home after two years, one month and seven days in the Republic of Vietnam. Leaving Vietnam was one of the hardest things I have ever done. After all, I walked away leaving my brothers at arms in harm’s way.

    Veterans of the Vietnam War did not enjoy the experience of going home. I know I didn’t. Upon release from the Army I went into the first bathroom I could find and took off my uniform and threw it into the trash. No one knew I was a soldier because like Arlo Guthrie sang in his song we were all “baby killers and mother rapers!” We all heard horror stories of people spitting on soldiers of that era.

    Coming home was a very sad time for me. It was nothing like I had imagined it would be. I was Regular Army, 100 percent volunteer, eager to serve my country. I felt I did not deserve to be treated like that. It still hurts me to think about it. I guess I will never get over it. I hate the words, “Thank you for your service.” Who the hell asked to be thanked for something like that? It was not something that was enjoyed and it was not a game.

    Every single time I hear the song “Alice’s Restaurant” I want to scream! To make it worse, everybody has to sing along with the words in a very loud manner. You might as well slap a veteran in the face with a handful of feces. If I ever see Arlo Guthrie, I would poke him right in the nose and ask him what the hell we ever did to him to write words that are so very cruel and heart wrenching for veterans of Vietnam.

    Coming home is hard enough without all that crap. The old adage, “You can never go home” is so very, very true for many of us. One day we were in a combat zone and the next day we were walking on the block. Nothing changes for those that stay home and everything changes for those that serve all those horrible days and nights in a combat situation. Nobody wants to hear war stories. The government has to pay people to listen to them. War is so much harder when you have to keep it inside, locked away, where you live it over and over, every day of your life.

    I can’t stand to be around other Vietnam vets because I can see the pain in their eyes, smell the booze on their breath, and the anger in their hearts. I know that inside their chest, they have the same pain that I have. I am always, always on the verge of tears and much of the time just living is so very, very hard for me. Years of therapy and taking pills did absolutely nothing for me in this respect. Booze, drugs and God have no effect whatsoever and the only relief I can find is the feeling of my wife’s warm breath on the back of my neck as she sleeps the deep, peaceful slumber only the innocent of heart can enjoy.

    • Sadly, you got caught in an awful war ( most are). It was a terrible time in our history and so many, myself included, felt it was a very wrong war. I protested and never once thought about the soldiers and for that I apologize. We were children of the 50’s and felt our country was wrong to fight there. We sent off teenagers who had no idea what that kind of war would do to them. They never knew who was the enemy and in the end it accomplished nothing in my mind, except deeply hurt young men like you. It was a terrible time and like you many people are still suffering who went there. It was a war where we weren’t threatened and fought in a war very far away in a country we knew nothing about. Love you Donald and wish I could make your continued pain disappear but that will never be the case.

      • Terri Connett

      • December 28, 2016 at 11:38 am
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      Don. This is so important to remind us all. I was married to a Viet Nam vet who also threw his uniform away (in the airport bathroom) when he arrived home in 1968. I met and married him 12 years later and tried my best to understand the damaged man I never really knew. We divorced after 10 years of marriage. I stayed 4 years longer than I really wanted to. I wasn’t happy but felt I couldn’t desert him like our country did. But he eventually found the strength to leave me. I know you don’t want to be thanked for your service. But I want to tell you how thankful I am for your sacrifice. And how sorry I am for what that war did to so many.

      • Terri, thanks so much for your comments. I cherish them and they come all to seldom. I too have had two – not one- divorce as well. I have to claim the majority of the fault for that but I have a lovely wife now of 30 years. I don’t know why she puts up with all my issues but she seems to take them in stride. I love her all that much more just for that. She is a wonderful woman. It is only of late that I realized just how strong women are and I’m amazed at how well you seem to hide that fact. It’s a strange world indeed. Donald

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