An Ol' Broad's Ramblings
A True Story; my return home from Gulf War I
By Christopher S. Watson
It was sometime in late May of 1991 and I was headed home after my first trip to the “Sand Box” as it was first coined then. The war was over and we had kicked Saddam out of Kuwait. America felt strong again after years of hanging its head low in the wake of Vietnam. Movies like Platoon, Hamburger Hill, Apocalypse Now, and The Deer Hunter had cast a terrible light on the silver screen of my early childhood. Somehow America had begun to blame the soldiers for the failures of its politicians. I knew little about the world at the time, but I did know that this was somehow wrong.
I was 20 years old as I lifted my duffel bag over my shoulder and began to depart the Pan-Am 747 that had just delivered us to Westover Massachusetts and finally home from the war. Thrilled to be alive and happy to be back in America, the scene was electric. The crowd was cheering and waving as we walked down the 1000 foot long red carpet and into the gargantuan Aircraft hanger where our welcoming party awaited. It too was filled with cheering crowds of Americans. Everyone wanted to shake our hands and thank us for a job well done.
I bent down on one knee to see a young troop of local boy and girl scouts who wanted me to autograph their shirts. Amazed by the pride and the excitement of the moment I was more than joyous to do so. No one had ever asked me for my autograph before.
As I made my way down the long red carpet I began to notice what was at the end of the long line of cheering people. I stopped shaking hands and slowly pulled away from the crowd for a moment as my thoughts began to turn inward. I began to detach myself form everything that was going on around me. It was then that I truly realized who was standing before me there to shake my hand. There were a handful of veterans from previous wars, standing tall and resolute with pride for what we had done.
At that moment everything changed for me. It was not them thanking me, it was the other way around. There before me was a Vietnam veteran. I started by shaking his hand then the grip began to tighten. We pulled each other closer and began to embrace in a brotherly hug. My eyes began to well with tears as did his.
As I pulled away, our hands still were locked tightly in a grip. I peered into his eyes and said “This, all of this, it’s really for you. You do know that don’t you?” As a tear slid down his cheek, he simply smiled and nodded. Neither of us could say another word. We released our tight grip that had joined two generations for that brief moment and I slowly turned and walked down the remainder of the red carpet.
I have three combat tours in two different wars under my belt now, and I too am a disabled veteran. To this day, every time I see a veteran of a past war proudly wearing his black veterans ball cap, I stop and shake his hand and thank him. Outwardly, I thank them for setting the example of bravery and sacrifice for my generation. Again outwardly, I thank them for everything that this nation is and has the potential to become. But most important, inwardly in my heart, I’m really thanking them for teaching me to be humble before those who deserve it the most.
Rest assured….if I EVER see anyone treat our returning soldiers as they were treated after serving in Vietnam, someone will end up on their ass! And it will NOT be me!