The young man had boarded the second plane twelve hours earlier and before too long, the plane would be landing. As he sat looking out of the window at the landscape far below, he wondered how he would be treated when he walked into the airport. He had heard earlier stories about the returning soldiers being spat upon, being called baby killers, drug addicts and many other names. It was bad enough he had seen the worst that mankind had to offer, but he really didn’t think he could deal with the large crowds of people he knew would be gathered at the terminal.
Robert’s mind drifted back to two weeks earlier when he had been on patrol. His platoon sergeant turned to say something to his soldiers, and stepped on a land mine. The sound of his sergeant’s screams still rang in his ears and by the amount of blood that lay on the ground, he knew the sarge would not make it. He ran to where the sergeant lay and saw he had no legs and a large hole in his stomach. Robert knew he was dying and he tried to make him as comfortable as he could. The announcement made by the pilot brought him back to the present and he heard the pilot say they would be landing in five minutes.
He gathered his stuff together and, bracing himself, left the plane to walk across the tarmac towards the terminal. Entering the warm building with the other returning soldiers, they moved to the area they would be staying until their connecting flights. Robert started to relax and was joking around with some of his buddies, when he felt something hit his arm. He looked down to see a tomato laying at his feet and, when he glanced over to where it had come from, he saw a young lady standing with such hate on her face that it made him take a step back. Robert could not understand what he had done wrong; he had been drafted straight out of high school and, after basic training, had been sent to Vietnam with no real knowledge of what it was going to be like.
The connecting flight was boarding, so he gathered his gear and, without looking back at the crowd of protestors, walked through the terminal door and back onto the plane. He found his seat and sat looking out the window, lost in his thoughts and staying quiet. He just wanted this plane ride to be over so he could return to his home town and get on with his life.
Two hours later Robert’s plane landed in a city about thirty minutes away from the small country town where he had grown up. No one at the airport to meet him so he caught a taxi to his parent’s place, about five miles outside of town. Grabbing his gear from the taxi, he walked through the back door into the kitchen. His mother turned when she heard a noise and gave him a big smile. She had missed her son so much and had been constantly worried while he was in Vietnam. She held out her arms and gave him a big hug, telling him how wonderful it was that he was finally home. Then, she scolded him for not letting them know that he was returning home.
Robert asked where his father was and she told him he was in the barn with a horse that was having trouble giving birth to a foal. He walked into the barn in time to see the foal being born and the first words out of his mouth were, “Well Dad, you have not lost your touch have you?” His father looked up and said to him, “Well, it’s about time you were home. We've missed you, and this farm is too much for me now.” He said,“Your Ma and I want to retire to a warmer climate and we want you to take over the farm.”
July 21st 1969
Two months later Robert sat on the front porch and looked out over the fields covered in rows of wheat and corn. His parents had moved to Florida so he had the house to himself. He enjoyed the quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the city and sat on the porch every afternoon since his return home, taking in the serenity of the countryside, disturbe only by the occasional sound of a barking dog in the distance. Friends he had known since childhood came around to see him, but they seemed too young for him now. Not in age, he thought to himself, but in maturity. However, he did appreciate their company.
The following day Robert headed off to town to pick up some supplies. He had only traveled a few miles when he came across a lady standing next to her car, looking distraught. He slowed to a stop and got out to investigate. The lady, who said her name was Mandy, told him she had a flat tire and didn't know how to fix it. She complained that she was late for a job she was starting that day. Robert said he would change it for her and, before she knew it, he had her spare tire on the car and the other tire in the trunk. He followed Mandy into town to ensure she arrived safely because he felt it was the right thing to do.
Later that afternoon, lying on the couch, a thousand thoughts ran through his brain and his mind returned in time as he fell asleep. He was laying down in a muddy rice field and, all around him, the sounds of gun-fire, explosions and screams filled the air. His platoon sergeant told the men to pull back and re-group but, before they could do this, a couple of mortar rounds hit and men began to fall. Robert’s buddy, John, started to scream. He had lost his arm and where it had been, hung a bloody stump with blood spurting everywhere.
He crawled to where John lay and, pulling off his belt, used it as a tourniquet to stop the flow of blood. His buddy’s screams were now a low whimper. Robert told John he needed to drag him out of the rice paddy and that it was going to hurt, but he needed to get him to safety. John nodded his head and, gritting his teeth, tried hard not to scream. The pain was so intense, he ended up passing out. A blessing in disguise, Robert thought as he dragged him over the berm with the help of their sergeant.
Hearing a noise behind him, he felt his heart beating so hard, it felt like it was coming out of his chest, and he turned around to look. The ringing of the phone woke him and he sat up with his heart pounding, looking around and feeling disoriented, until he realized where he was. His shoulder ached where he had been shot and he rubbed it without thinking while walking to the phone.
Early the next morning Robert lay in bed thinking back to the day before and the dream he had while asleep on the couch, he thought about the previous night and how he seemed to go from one nightmare to the next, all night. He didn't know what was happening to him with all the flashbacks and nightmares, and he didn’t know who he could turn to for help.