When I left Vietnam there were, as I am sure many had, memories planted on the brain some kind of photographic recall of what the wife looked like? What the kids looked like? What mom and dad looked like? What the rest of the family, friends and the environment looked like? Personally, I had planted a never changing world that I had left behind less than 9months earlier in February of 1967. And my vision of what to expect when I returned.....was clear to me!
I was treated for my wounds received on September 4, 1967 at the 45th Surgical Hospital and transferred to the 93rd Evac Hospital on September 5th and woke up on September 14th in the 249th General Hospital in Japan. I recall waiting for those familiar sounds: check your gear, we're moving out at 0:800; clean your weapon; we're going to the Hobo Woods or some other familiar sounding battlezone. I recall the faces were not the ones I had become familiar with. It was just another reality in the long line of situations I found myself in since being drafted and going to Vietnam and returning to the World.
I would eventually realize that I was no longer on the battlefield. There would be no sudden awenkings in the middle of the night to the sound of enemy bombing and bullets and rockets to duck. There would be no more saddle up, lock and load once we left the wire. There would be no more counting off from front to rear. I wouldn't be sharing a foxhole. I would no longer freeze in my space when a rocket landed next to my foxhole with a big"thump" and not explode! There would be no more patrols. No more search and destroy missions. I would not be with my comrades out there in the rice paddies and rubber plantations. I wouldn't be worried about where I stepped. No more bobby traps. I would not be fighting Charlie.......atleast not at that moment in time. Atleast, not in Vietnam so to speak.
I was no longer in Vietnam, physically. Instead, I was to find out even before leaving the hospital, that the battle would be fought from with the depths of me and it would last for many years to come.
My stay in the hospital was lonely and depressing. It was almost frightening. Especially, when I considered the fact that I felt more at home on the battlefield at times. I met a couple of other wounded warriors who made life a little less difficult to deal with. But, the haunting that went on inside was slowly building to the unexplainable. My actions, were new to me. I became a different person right before my own eyes. I could put my finger on some of the madness that occurred as it related to the war. However, there was a change taking place that was not easy to accept. Thus, the question of the day became, "Why?"
Why am I waking up in the middle of the night? Why did I have the same nightmare over and over? Why did the battlefield visit me sleep or awake? Why am I alive and friend is not? Why am I so sensitive to sound? To the touch of another human being? Why did I feel unsafe? Why was I in Nam in the first place? Why? Why? Why?
There was a time when I took a chance and left the hospital ward with the others. I went out, don't remember exactly where; considering I didn't have much money and purchased an outfit for the evening. Three of us had planned to steal into Tokyo. So, I found me a pair of pants for about $5; shirt $3; sock $1; shoes less than $10....I was ready!
We hit the town. We were not supposed to be out medically speaking. We were a sight to see. Two of us had catherers and we still had our stitches. Remember what I said earlier about fleeing to Canada..."I'd probably get caught." Well, I got to one of the clubs and had a great time. Danced like I never danced before. Monday morning when the doctor came in, don't remember his name (we nicknamed him "McNamarra" because he looked like Defense Secretary McNamarra) he had with him a copy of Stars and Stripes in his hand. There I was on the front cover dancing. He was not too happy.
There were not that many good times to be had. I was filled with the feeling of lonliness for the comrades I had left behind. I wanted to know what as going on. How were they doing? Who was still there? Who went home? Who was alive? What happened to the men I pulled out when I was wounded? No answers. Always questions and no answers. It was devastating.
Sometime in November I heard I was getting orders and I was being sent to Korea. I was angry and submitted my protest. I was told that's where I was going and said , "Send me back to Nam!" My protests were meaningless. Feeling I was in a no win situation I decided to give up. I had no where to turn. One of the guys on the ward with me who also had been told he wasn't going home. He and I went to the store. We each got a bottle and found us a curb where we sat and drank until I passed out. When I woke up I was back on the ward and the nurse and the attendants were watching me as I sat under a cold shower.
The next day, hangover and all I went back to where the orders were being cut and was befriended by a Sargent who seemed to understand what was happening to me even though much of it I didn't understand. I got new orders and was on my way back to the World. I was overcome with this great joy. Yet at the same time there was this sadness that filled my heart. For just an instant...I still wanted to go back to Nam. Yet, I was going back to the World. Back to.......?
2000 by William R. I. "Easy" Smith
I don't recall much of the process once I got my orders to return to the United States upon my release from the hospital in Japan. I do remember getting this free phone call and I talked as long as I could to my family. I was able to let them know that I would be home to Washington, D. C. before returning to my next duty station which was Ft. George G. Meade, Maryland.
There was all this apprhension and anxiousness. I wanted to see my family. I wanted to hold my daughter. I tried to picture what she looked like, how her mother looked and how my mother looked. All those visions I had planted of what to expect returned.
In all fairness to myself, I had this fear. It was a fear that became one of those unexlainables. I would learn to understand these feelings, atleast some of them many years later. i don't recall who met me at the airport. What I do recall is giving my mother a big hug and a kiss. I remember that my sister, Gloria snatched me from the small gathering a siad, " I'm kissing my brother on the mouth!" That was probably the most immediate welcomings I remember. I recall putting up a little resistance because, we didn't do all that hugging and kissing stuff and besides....I was a man. Maybe, the boy who left could have handled it, but the man that came back from fighting a war wasn't going show any such emotions. And he sure wasn't going to show acceptance of such "fuddy-duddy." She won. I was so happy to be home and that's all that mattered at the moment.
I was in a space I never thought I would see or be in ever just months prior. But, there I was transported from the battlefield. I was reunited with my daughter and her mother( my wife at the time). My first day went by quickly, I just know there was a celebration. I was able to avoid the questions and talking about my experiences in Vietnam. I didn't want to talk about it anyway. Afterall, where does one begin to tell family and friends about the horrors of war? Like I said it was easy to avoid the issues that first day due to all the celebrating for my return. But, my initial feelings of joy and happiness as they related to being home were sharply and upbruptly ended on the second day I was back in the World.
On the second day of my return I took the family to my favorite neighborhood tavern for dinner. The place was called The Manhattan Cafe and it was a staple in the neighborhood. The owner Mr. Curtis prepared the best hamburger around and it was one of those items I really missed. It was one of the first things on my list of things to do. While I was waiting for the meal and talking to friends at the bar. I was being pumped with questions about the war. There was one thing I noticed as I look back on that night. I didn't have to answer the questions as long as the drinks were being served. Another thing was that the answers were coming from those doing the asking. Still waiting for the burgers while my daughter and her mother sat in the booth, Mr. Curtis called me into the kitchen. My first thoughts were that he would do his own personal welcoming and celebrating in private. He did express being glad I was home.
Mr. Curtis all expresed his concern about what had I become by saying and asking: " I have seen a lot of the guys come back. I've heard that most of the guys are crazy. What about you? Are you like these other guys?" I look at him and replied "I'm okay!" And at that moment I knew I wasn't okay!
As a matter of fact, that was when I actually remember shutting down and withdrawing and not seaking of Vietnam or wanting ot talk about or hear anyone else talk about the war for the next 32 years. I became something of a nightmare to live with. I was became an angry man. I learned to hide my feelings very quickly. I learned how to get lost in myself and to hide in plain site. I gound way to forget, if only for short periods of time. I did not like the person and saw in the mirror. I didn't like what I was doing to family and friends and to myself.
I didn't like this new reality........but, I was back in the World.