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A Soldier's Refrain: Going Home

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A Soldier's Refrain: Going Home

Opinion

A Soldier's Refrain: Going Home

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

On this Veterans Day, we turn to commentator Forrest Brandt who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. He recalls the day he came home and went from soldier to veteran.

Lieutenant Colonel FORREST BRANDT (Retired Lieutenant Colonel, Army Reserves; Adjunct Professor, Northern Kentucky University): July 18, 1969. I'm dressed in crisp khakis, shoes shined, brass polished, First Infantry Division patch on my breast pocket. Flying on a Boeing 707, L.A. to D.C.

(Soundbite of Symphony No. 9 "From the New World")

Lieutenant Colonel BRANDT: Through my headset, I hear the largo from Dvorak's "New World Symphony." A melancholy English horn calls out the melody, going home.

(Soundbite of Symphony No. 9 "From the New World")

Lieutenant Colonel BRANDT: 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, 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 the buddies I left behind so that I could be going home. I remember the grunts and the 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, 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. 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. You're going home.

(Soundbite of song "Going Home")

Unidentified Choir: (Singing) Going home, I'm going home. Praise God, I'm going home.

MONTAGNE: Forrest Brandt is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves and an adjunct professor at Northern Kentucky University.

(Soundbite of song "Going Home")

Unidentified Choir: (Singing) Going home, I'm going home. There is nothing to hold me here. I got a glimpse of that heavenly land. Praise God, I'm going home.

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