Vietnam War veterans returning home often had to sneak back into the country, as though hiding some deep shame, in order to avoid what my Army Special Forces teammate Mad Dog Carson called “long-haired, dope-smoking, draft-dodging pukes” protesting outside the airports. That changed when the new wars kicked off with the 1991 Desert Storm call-ups for Iraq.
My Army MP (military police) company, for which I was First Sergeant, deployed in a bare C-141 without heat in the troop bay. My young soldiers piled on top of each other trying to keep warm during the long flight.
Six months later, after the “100-Hour War” ended, my company returned to Fort Polk, Louisiana, in a heated C-141 with real airline-type seats. Luxury. It was the middle of the night when the big aircraft rolled out onto the tarmac. All my soldiers wanted was to reunite with their families, go home, and go to bed.
Instead, to my amazement—call it “cultural shock”—brass and bands awaited our arrival. Three o’clock a.m. and “dignitaries” gave speeches while my troops marched by in review for a “dog-and-pony” show in honor of politicians and ranking officers.
“Top?” one of my young MPs asked. “Was it like this before?”
“Nah. Then they spat on you and called you ‘baby killer.’”
Now, we were heroes. That was because it was a short war, there were relatively few casualties, and the troops were coming home in victory.
Skip forward two decades. Coming home for the troops has changed again. It’s become routine. Local newspapers list the names of home-town soldiers killed in action. There might be a speech by a mayor or town councilman. The deep shame now lies in the wounded and maimed—those who return with missing limbs, are paralyzed, or have sustained other debilitating injuries. They are hidden away in Bethesda or Walter Reed, out of sight and largely out of mind. Civilian agencies such as Wounded Warriors take up the slack to make sure they even get proper treatment.
Wars change—and so do societies.
“Too tough to kick out of the Rangers!” That was what they said about Sergeant Joe Kap, the only Army Ranger ever to return to full combat duty as an amputee. Read his amazing combat story in Back In The Fight by Sergeant Joe Kapacziewski and Charles W. Sasser. Available at most book stores, Amazon.com, and BarnesandNoble.com.