A Minnesota PBS Initiative
Two occasions at Oakland military base standout in my memory. This was a place where Vietnam War veterans exchanged places with replacement soldiers.
On a day sometime in mid-1969 I was one of dozens of GIs processed and waiting for bus transportation to an airplane to begin a tour of duty in Vietnam. Not at an airline terminal like civilians are accustomed to, but a building on the base that might have doubled as a gymnasium?
As we waited I do not remember even idle conversation. My body was taut. My mind was whirring. What will the returning warriors look like? How will I measure up?
I was about to occupy the seat of a war veteran.
Eventually the buses arrived. Returning veterans carrying their luggage filed in to the space we now shared, newbies on one side and veterans on the other. There were no celebratory gestures. No conversation even among the veterans.
There was no eye contact by the veterans toward their replacements. A memory that haunts me today.
Twelve months later my role was reversed. I was in that line as a returning veteran. I felt no urge to celebrate. Perhaps it was in reverence for the situation those fresh troops were about to face? Perhaps it was a callous decision to close that chapter of my life?
I chose not to look at the replacements for fear of remembering a face.
Story Themes: Coming Home, First Air Cavalry Division, First Impressions, Growing Up, III Corps, Saint Paul, St Paul, Three Corps