Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2002 23:47:42 -0700 (PDT)
This is my coming home day, 32 years ago today I came
home from the war. Came home on a beautiful summer day
to one of the most memorable riots in L.A. history,
and we have had some memorable ones.
The day I came home is still vivid in my recolection,
all my friends were at the airport, some had made
banners, it was a really cool homecoming.
I was glad, I was home. Uncertainty was in the
horizon. I was not sure what my life was going to be
like from then on, here were my old friends from the
block, we now had little in common. I had just left
behind my new friends from my new life, that was also
though. I was suffering mixed emotions.
I remember Sgt. Barrows saying goodbye to me at the
Seatle airport, he said, "Mendoza, you take care of
yourself," and he was off, I have not seen him since.
On the flight home from Seattle I met a man who owned
his own business. He told me to look him up in Burbank
when I got out of College, I did, but he was too busy to
see me then.
I will never forget the look on my mother's face when
she saw me, first thing she said was," you are so
skinny". She made sure I was not skinny for long.
I was feeling melancholic this evening so I went on a
long drive just to feel the wind in my face. As the
sun was going down behind the San Gabriel Mountains I
could not help but notice how much it looked like when
the sun was going down behind the mountains near the
DMZ. So much has changed and yet so little has
Many of us have not left the Nam behind. Some of us
have left it and never recalled it. I, every August 29
recall that day vividly so I will never forget what it
was like and how it was......The Faces, The Sounds,
The smells, The Silence, The mosquitoes, The good
times, The lousy times, The parties out on night
operations outside of Nancy, the stews in the steel
pot, the football games out on the field, bunker
guard, night ambush, incoming, the heat, the wet, the
gook kids, the water bufaloes, the red clay, the dirt,
c-rats, mail call, chopper blades, Napalm, Supert
Sport laughing, Al Hall singing, Smokey Lane dancing,
Capt. Spruill kicking ass, Capt. Nice bullshitting,
3-0 Yankee "repeat that", Kaufman "DON'T SAY REPEAT ON
THE RADIO!!", R & R , burning shit, writting home,
flicks from home, dear John letters, letters to
penpals, being short, Peterson standing at attention,
my dog, Jim Clark, Big Daddy.
I never want to forget, I would like to see all of you
Love ya all,
My Son Justin works full time, and attends Bible College in Texas. Yeah Coop right close to you all!! Anyway here is a paper he wrote for one of his classes, and I wanted to share it with you all! Kid
What Shapes Us
There are numerous events we go through in life that shape us into the people we are. I believe two of the most influential are the traumas we experience and the handicaps we are born with.
Trauma is defined in Webster's Dictionary as “a bodily injury” or “a mental shock.” Roget's Thesaurus defines it as “severe mental or physical pain.” Agony, anguish, confusion, derangement, hurt, injury, shock, stress, suffering, torture, and wound are all words that signify trauma.
A handicap is defined in Webster's dictionary as “any encumbrance or disadvantage.” Some of its synonyms are affliction, burden, disability, hindrance, impairment, limitation, restriction, and shortcoming.
I was born with club feet. By the time I was a few months old, I was wearing my first set of casts. Before I could walk, I dragged myself around like a seal, towing my casts behind. I had corrective surgery on both feet, before I was four years old. The surgeries corrected the deformity but left me with irregular looking feet and obvious scars. Up until the age of five, I was in and out of casts and corrective shoes. Wearing casts on and off through one of the fastest growing stages of life left my lower legs atrophied. Upon entering kindergarten, I walked through the doors on crutches bearing my last cast. My handicap was purely physical, unlike the mental trauma my dad experienced.
Halfway through his senior year of high school, my dad joined the army and headed to Vietnam. He was in the infantry division as a recon scout. He carried an M-60, the biggest rifle issued, putting him right on the front lines. At one point during the war, he was out in the field for over seventy days, in combat, with none of the conveniences we so easily take for granted. I saw a picture of him that had been taken when he returned from those seventy days. He was nineteen; he looked like he was thirty. He watched his friends die, and he killed people. They stacked the dead bodies in piles and burned them. He was the youngest in his platoon. They called him, “The Kid,” a nickname that signified belonging. This was in stark contrast to some of the names he was called after the war and to some of the phrases I heard as a kid.
The words still sting.
“You sure have skinny calves.”
“Look how flat your feet are.”
“Why does your ankle bulge out on the side like that?”
I hated the fact that my feet were the way they were. Whenever my handicap was exposed, every bit of insecurity I possessed surged forth, especially at an age when any blemish brought embarrassment. I wanted nothing more than to just fit in. I always felt different from the other kids. Not that I chose to feel that way, I just did. I hung around the “cool” kids at school; I played sports, but a part of me didn't feel like I belonged.
My dad returned from the war with the same feeling. He walked out of a combat zone into a country that referred to him as a “baby-killer.” He was not applauded nor honored. He was spit on. He was taunted. He was looked down upon by a generation that was supposed to be his. Where was his place in the world? He returned to a society he no longer belonged to. The free-spirited, peace-loving movement of the day did little to make a soldier feel welcome. He would not allow this to dictate who he would become, and like me, he would defy what life was trying to deal him.
The doctor told my parents that I might not be able to play sports because of my feet. By my junior year in high school, I had participated in basketball, baseball, soccer, track, wrestling, football, skiing, snow-boarding, kayaking, rock-climbing, and mountain climbing. I became fiercely competitive and would leap at the chance to prove myself in any challenge. My dad approached a very different obstacle in much the same way.
An article in a local newspaper featured him. The story was about soldiers who were unable to find work after the war. My dad gave the most formative years of his life to serve his country. In combat, he made some of the most incredible decisions a person could ever be faced with, and mere months after returning, he was sweeping floors at a lumberyard. He was confused and resentful, but he would not allow it to control his life; he would not be held down. Within months, he would become the manager of the lumberyard. Sadly, both of our triumphs were also accompanied by sorrow.
I started drinking my sophomore year in high school, and by the end of it was doing drugs. I loved the escape I found in these vices. I was able to forget my handicap and my insecurities. I hated the return to reality.
Likewise, my dad turned to drugs and alcohol to hide his scars. The pain and emotional turmoil he suffered due to the things he saw and experienced in Vietnam took their toll on him. He was left with a weight he couldn't bear and dreams he couldn't separate from reality. Any release from this was welcomed. Through God's mercy, we both eventually found the true healing we longed for.
Just before my twenty-second birthday, God took hold of my life. A few months later, he used me to reach my dad. From the insecurities we faced to the unhealthy patterns we had developed in our lives, God helped us begin the process of mending. The burdens we bore were surrendered to Him. Through Jesus Christ, we were made whole. The old man died, and a new was born. We went from hopelessness in our personal battles to having faith in God's love and grace. He took the broken pieces of our lives and put us back together. And He continues to do so. Hey you
Have A Blessed Day!!!
I know some or all got the same welcome I did. When we arrived in the states the MP'S met us at the plane and there were some people standing by the building we were taken to, of course we thought they were there to welcome us home. When we got close to them the names , baby killers,and a few others showed me how welcome we really were.After that we were stood against the wall inside and searched by the MP's.I will never forget how I felt that day. When they were done some one said there was a steak dinner waiting for us, I told them to stick their steak dinner up their ass,give me some clothes I was going home. I thought home would be better, but I was wrong again. My first vist to the VFW was a mess, when a World War 2 guy told me I didn't belong there. He said the club was for veterans of war, not baby killers & dope heads, I knocked him down and left. I worked and people didn't know I was in Viet Nam, it was something you didn't talk about. When the subject came up I found something to do to leave the area. My wife knew nothing about my time in Viet Nam until I joined the Army Reserves where once again I was with people who understood. I now am with people I know which is much better. Our time there will never be forgotten. Just a few things off my chest. John K. 2nd PLT 69/70
Hey John, all I know is my family was happy to see me come home alive and in one piece and that was good enough for me. My feelings were "screw everybody else". I know I and all the Troopers did our best over there and that was comfort enough for me. Who cares what anybody else thought?Turtle
Hi old buddy, You are right and that is how it all ended. Our familys were there for us. I am proud to be a Viet Nam Vet.and a 412 Trooper. Talk soon. John K.
I've often thought of how fortunate I was because of one civilian in 1970. I was racing from the ticket counter in Portland, OR. to catch my last connection home to Eugene and a guy close to my age with his daughter in his arms stopped me, asked me if I'd just returned from 'nam and when I said yes, he said "I'd just like to say thank you and welcome home" and with that he shook my hand. I think of that every time I hear how others of you were treated on your return and the incident has grown even more meaningful over the years. I hope I'll be able to thank him for that gesture in heaven someday 'cause I have no way of knowing who he was here on earth. I lived several hours from the airport but I wonder if any of our guys have gone to the airport just to say "thank you" and "welcome home" to returning vets. When I think of this incident or just the fact that I've had a few moods lifted and days pleasantly altered just because someone gave me a great smile, I realize the impact seemingly small gestures can make in ones day or life and I try doing my part. Know what? It IS more blessed to give than to receive !! Skee
Amazing to hear somebody said "thank you" right when you got back!
It was about 15 years before anybody ever said that to me - and the first guy I can recall actually saying that was my old brother Tom. When I came home he was an 18-year-old scraggly-looking sneering war-protesting drug-inhaling hippie, and the only reason he didn't right-out call me a baby-killer was because my folks would have yelled
at him. 15 years later he called me up on Veteran's Day to say he'd figured out why I was proud to have volunteered to serve in Nam and he appreciated that service.
Tom died 12 years ago, but I remember that phone call every Veteran's Day. LTeeF
Depends on what part of the country you were from, and probably what year you served in Viet Nam. I think attitudes got worse the later things went. When I processed through Cam Rahn Bay, and then SeaTac & Ft. Lewis in late 1970, all went relatively smoothly and efficiently. I do remember that on the "freedom bird" about half way over the Pacific, a flight attendant told a GI who had persisted in acting like an ass-hole that if he didn't straighten up, he would be met by MPs when we landed. The guy had it coming, though. He seemed to think that his year in Viet Nam had earned him the right to grope, and verbally abuse the first round eyed woman he saw, and she was just setting him straight. Once I got to my hometown, I was met with universal acceptance. The bartender at the local tavern gave me my first beer on the house for having served, and many people looked me up to say hello and to welcome me home. I can honestly say that I never got any of the "baby killer" crap that some
people experienced. Over the years I've later heard many misconceptions of the Viet Nam War by people who didn't serve there, but I really feel that the majority of the people who I've associated with were OK about the whole thing. Of course, after taking 3 years off active duty to complete college, I went back into the Army, and initially the majority of the senior officers and NCOs were also Viet Nam veterans, and the junior people weren't critical of what we had done there. I feel sorry for the guys who got such undeserved crap for their service when they came home, but I also know that a lot of people never really got any of that treatment. The only somewhat negative thing that I recall from the time shortly after my return from Viet Nam was a really condescending letter inviting me to join the American Legion. The jerk who wrote the letter made it sound as if I had an obligation to join their almighty organization and pay dues to them out of gratitude for their supremely outstanding and marvelous work in obtaining benefits for veterans of all wars which Congress would never have thought of approving if it had not been for the supremely marvelous American Legion. I really think the guy who wrote the letter was just stupid, and didn't mean to convey the attitude that I took from reading it, but to this day I've never joined the American Legion.
I can relate 100 %, besides kiss the ground when we landed in Ft. Lewis I purchased civilian clothes to fly home instead of facing the protesters' abuse. I felt lucky to be alive and with all body parts, but I'm glad I served. Except for the emotional scars that only time will heal, I'm a better man for and proud to be a member of the 4/12 Cav. I can't tell you
how glad I am to be found and what a great honor it has been to meet fellow cav members at the reunions. To members who haven't attended please make it a priority, you won't regret it. To the Brotherhood of the Cav, Trap
My father and I had similar experiences when we finally came home from our respective wars. The only story he told me about his days in WWII was about 2 sentences long. He told me that when he arrived at Schofield Barracks in early 1947 from combat duty in the Philippines, they gave him 15¢ for bus fare and told him to go home. I asked him how come it took so long to get home since the war ended in August 1945, he said that he didn't have enough points. He joined the war in January of that year during the invasion of
Luzon. He had been drafted right after he graduated high school in June 1944
I came home, not on a Freedom Bird, but on one of them round-the-world flights that the air force does once a day on I think it was called a C-141 Starlifter. The plane stopped in the Philippines and Guam before touching down in Honolulu. I was still dressed in my jungle fatigues. When I hopped off the plane, I was alone. No one else got off with me. I went straight for a taxi and told him, home, James. He said, “What, jes came back from Vietnam?” “Yeah, do I get a free ride?” “No.” He answered, “But welcome home.” He returned my tip at my house, and said, “No need.”
I didn’t expect a parade, steak dinner or any thanks from anyone. And I sure didn’t get any. Haw! Haw! I did have a Zippo engraved with “A 75th Support Finance, Babykillers” on one side and A 4/12th Cavalry 1st Platoon, Pineappe” on the other (the Vietnamese engraver at the QT PX misspelled it even after I wrote it out). I showed it to everyone I met. They must have thought I was crazy. GeorGersaba
Hi Wally, When I got home I had to find a job since I went into the Army out of school. On the appt. they asked did you serve in Nam? So you and everyone else knew what that meant. One job I went for asked if I was in Viet Nam, and if so I had to take a mental test. I told them yes, 2 times they replied you definitely need to be tested. Welcome home Viet Nam Vet. John K.
I guess we all had different home comings.
The only adverse reaction I ever received was when I went back to my old job. I was working with a bunch of guys my age, but they were going to college, I was the
only war vet in the place.They were big jokesters and lots of fun, but the conversation came up soon enough about Viet Nam. The questions started coming:
Did you kill babies?
Did you rape the girls?
Did you guys kill the pow's?
How did you have to serve, you're a foreingner?......with that I finally had to answer!!! I told them just this:
"We all are very fortunate to be Americans, there is one difference though...... You guys are just lucky to have been born here......I EARNED IT". The conversation was never brought up again in a negative way and they eventually came to admire the fact I was the only combat veteran working in the whole place.
I had two eye opening experiences. First when I was on RR in Hawai Linda and I went into a resturant and ate dinner. When I asked for the check the waiter said that a gentleman at the bar had paid for my check because he wanted to thank me for serving my Country. He had already left so I never got a chance to thank him.
Then when I returned home I was travelling to Wash DC in my uniform and I stopped at an airpot bar to get a beer. This nice older guy walks up to me and says I can see by your uniform and the CIB you are wearing that you must be home from Vietnam. I said yes and he told the bartender to give me anything I wanted. He then told me that when he returned from WWII an old man from WWI bought him a drink and told him he was now obligated to buy a drink for another soldier returning home from another war. This man then told me that I was now obligated to buy a drink for a returning soldier of the next war. To this day if I am in a bar and I see a soldier in uniform, I thank him for serving and I buy him a drink.
Rag: when I returned to the world, after the first week at home I military hopped from airbase to airbase to DC.
I went to the Pentagon and had them change my orders from Ft. Carson to Ft Lewis, (closer to home).
When I returned I stopped in Kansas City, Mo to meet the girl who was later to become my wife. We were out to some lake in the vacinity of KC, MO. and went swimming. I wore cut off jeans after we swam we drank some beer and returned to Carolyn's Uncles house in KC.Kansas. I had lost my wallet, with everything, ID, Orders, and all my leave pay, I don't remember now maby $4-500.bucks.
The next day my father called me from Portland he knew the phone number where we were and he was frantic!
It seems this guy had found my wallet floating in the lake and had called my home number in the wallet and talked to my dad.
Of course dad thought I was dead meat until he talked to me that day. Well dad told me the guys phone #. I called him up, he said come on over and claim your wallet.
We drove over, turns out the guy was an off duty police officer. He said I was a Viet Vet and he wouldn't take a dime I offered him. I looked in my wallet and all was returned in good order. I now regret not keeping his name and address, I would like to send him a card now and again. There were many other incidents that weren't so cool, but this one still warms my memories. Wild Bill Dodds