This is the final part of a 4 part series by and about Steve A. who was a draftee combat soldier in Vietnam. If you missed Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3 just click on the link to read them. Steve continues to live in New Jersey and almost never speaks about his Vietnam experiences. These are the true stories as told to the Editor of East Coast Stories.
It was my last day in Vietnam and I had never been more scared. There were hundreds of us lined up at the airfield waiting for transport planes to arrive to take us home. Everyone was nervous and there was not much taking.
It all had to do with the old-time war movies. In every war movie every one of us had ever seen as a kid, there is always some guy who gets killed just before he is going to go home. It sounds stupid, but that kind of thing ends up having a real impact on your subconscious.
We had been standing in line in the oppressive heat for hours and no transport planes had arrived. Finally a whole group of them landed in succession and we thought we would be getting on them any minute. But the lines did not move. The planes had to be fueled and prepped and that takes a long time.
Then it got dark.
If ever a VC sniper was going to start picking us off now would be the time. That’s right, the airstrip sniper rumor was back and it was making the troops nervous as Hell. Guys started to push forward. They could see the planes and they wanted to get on them.
About 50 feet in front of me 2 guys got into a fight. Other guys tried to break it up but these two just kept at it. They were both big muscular guys and both of them were getting bloody. Whistles blew and eight MPs with batons and helmets came running in and grabbed the two guys. They were wrestled to the ground and then loaded into jeeps to be taken to the Stockade. The worst fears of these guys had come true. They would not be getting on the transports home. They would be remaining in Vietnam for a while.
About a half hour after the fight the line began to move and I boarded a plane. I got to sit in the middle. I did not know any of the guy around me. Unlike today’s Army, men did not move in and out of the war in complete units. We came in and went out as individuals whenever our time happened to be up.
The plane rolled down the runway and the engined roared as it built up speed. Then it lifted off and the wheels left the ground.
A huge cheer went up from all the men. It was the best cheer I ever heard in my life. Better than the cheer from any crowd at any sporting event.
We were out of Vietnam. And we were alive.
The engine hummed on an on and men started to dose off. We thought it was all over, but the Army had one more piece of shit to throw at us. One more thing to remind us that we were draftees that did not matter to them.
It was not a non-stop flight. The plane landed in Guam to take on fuel. Before it landed were were ordered to stay in our seats and not get off.
When the plane landed in Guam the door opened and onto the plane came a Sergeant, a Major, a civilian woman and two small children. It turns out that the Major and his family were going back to the States. Due to his rank, four soldiers were going to be bumped off the plane so that the Major and his family could travel.
The Sergeant picked 4 seats and ordered 4 men off the plane. So four men returning from war were going to have to wait on Guam instead of going home; so that some Major and his family would not have to wait for the next plane.
At the time I wasn’t even angry about it. That was just the kind of thing you expect the Army to do. I was just glad I was not one of the 4 men told to leave the plane.
After the re-fueling the door closed and the plane left Guam.
This time there were no cheers. We were going home. We had made it through the war and we were going home. I guess I was supposed to have some great revelation about everything I had been through but I did not.
A lot of people over the years have asked me how I felt coming home from Vietnam . They expect some complex philosophical answer. But here is the truth.
All I felt was tired. Just absolutely, completely tired.