With wars continuing in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of military veterans grows every Veterans Day. Commentator Forrest Brandt served in an earlier conflict — he was with the 1st Infantry Division in Lai Khe, Vietnam, from 1968-69.
Brandt, now a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves and an adjunct professor at Northern Kentucky University, wrote about the day he came home:
July 18, 1969
I'm dressed in crisp khakis,
First Infantry Division patch on my breast pocket.
Flying on a Boeing 707,
LA to DC.
Through my headset I hear the Largo from Dvorak's
New World Symphony.
A melancholy English horn calls out the melody,
I hear the words of the song, Going Home.
At 35,000 feet the pilot tells us,
if you look carefully, you can spot a chalky line.
That's the route of the Oregon Trail.
I find the line.
I imagine those weary pioneers.
I sense their doubts,
Why did we leave?
When will we be 'Going Home?'
I think of my own home.
Did my father, 'Going Home' from war in 1946,
feel the same confusion I feel now?
Am I the same person who left?
And all the time the melody calls out to me,
Going home, going home, Lord, I'm going home.
I think of childhood friends.
of endless games of baseball in the summer,
football in the fall and basketball in between.
I remember girlfriends, dances, college nights,
the twists and turns of growing up.
I remember church, Easter Sundays and Christmas Eves.
I return to Vietnam.
I remember buddies I left behind so I could be 'Going Home.'
I remember the grunts and peasant kids,
the way the razor wire cut blurry lines between good and bad, friend and foe.
I remember the broken bodies at Bien Hoa Air Base,
strapped to litters,
wrapped like mummies,
drugged out on morphine,
torn apart by the war,
waiting patiently for their flight,
their 'Going Home' ride.
I remember the flag draped caskets at Tan Sohn Nhut,
all 'Going Home.'
The music and my thoughts overwhelm me,
crash down upon me in an anointing wave.
My throat burns.
my vision blurs,
I taste tears on my lips,
my body heaves with sobs I cannot stop.
A stewardess, unseen by me, approaches.
I feel her comforting hand across my shoulders,
I smell her sweet perfume as she slips into the seat next to me.
I experience grace as she grasps my hand in hers and says,
"It's all right, Lieutenant, you're almost home.
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