Welcome Home

I was a career Army officer, serving two tours of duty in Vietnam (67-67 and 70-71). Most Vietnam veterans know that lonely feeling of not being able to discuss the war or be understood, except by other vets. The Welcome Home greeting is our way of conveying that we understand to each other and a way of saying "You will be understood here". This is a story of my Welcome Home, 25 years later.

After Vietnam there were not parades, not many people wanted to hear our stories, and if they did listen, they didn't really understand. I am not sure many of us understood, at least not for some time. I had a buffer zone build in, the military life I had chosen, allowed for some "story telling", in some cases it even encouraged it. But the unspoken rule was "keep it light", no heavy stuff. So you learned to cope, keep it quiet, keep it in, deal with it yourself.

The Gulf Conflict (Desert Storm) became an event as I was ending my career. I had already submitted my retirement paperwork when troops started deploying. My job became getting the necessary equipment, personnel, and other items ready for shipment to Saudi as rapidly as possible. I was stationed at Fort Lewis, WA and planned on retiring in the community of Olympia.

My wife worked for the State of Washington on the Capital Campus in Olympia. I occasionally would have time to meet her for lunch and tried to do this monthly, if time permitted. On this occasion I was returning to my car from lunch with my wife, a trip of 5 or 6 blocks. Hostilities had not yet commenced in the Gulf, the buildup was in full swing. Active duty, reserve, and National Guard troops were being activated and transferred to staging areas in the US and the Gulf.

I was in uniform (BDUs) and returning to my car when I noticed a young woman watching me intently. I couldn't figure out if she thought she recognized me or what was on her mind. As we approached, she started to block my path, she seemed intent on stopping me and getting my undivided attention. Her actions confused me, many thoughts and possibilities raced through my mind. Not the least of which was a concept she might be offended by my uniform, or have something negative to say in regards to the military and the impending actions in the Gulf. There's that old Vietnam-era mindset coming into the picture.

So I stopped, prepared for anything, running possible retorts through my mind. She said "I don't know what to say, except THANK YOU. I just wanted to say Thank You and shake your hand". With that she took my hand and shook it, then turned and walked away. I was stunned and speechless. I was totally confused. I kept asking myself "What did I do? Did she have me confused with someone else? Did I know this woman? What happened here?". As I journeyed on I finally realized what had happened and what she had done. Her gesture carried a special significance for me. It healed many of the scars brought about by years of feeling as if nobody really cared. She thought she was just thanking me as a symbol for the military participation in an effort to sustain world peace, not a small task. But it was much more than that.

She had just welcomed me home. Not only had she welcomed me home, she had just said Welcome Home to a whole generation, the Vietnam generation. Her simple action and heartfelt thanks had just accomplished more healing than any therapy or time could have. She was letting me know that she and her generation appreciated what we (those that serve) were doing, had done, and would do in the future to secure the freedom and liberty of this nation and other nations.

So to each of you reading this, I just want to pass on that heartfelt THANK YOU to all those that have served this nation in its time of need, to all those who have supported our Armed Forces, and to all those that will serve in the future. I can't shake your hand, but from me and that young woman who may never fully understand the impact of her gesture or the significance of her words, THANK YOU and:

Copywright 1997, 1998, 1999, Tom Martin, All rights reserved