An old sailor sheds a tear on the prairie
You can't ever go home again. Every sailor wants to go home, but home is a place in time and space, and so the thing he left is gone. It has moved on and won't be the place it was when he left.
Every sailor who has tried to go home knows this truth. If the sailor wore a uniform and fought in a war, there is more truth to deal with. The place he left will be radically changed by the war. The sailor will be radically changed as well.
If he fought in the Vietnam War, he and his brothers in uniform would learn that many of the people who didn't go to war didn't want them to come home. The people "at home" thought of him as a war criminal, and he thought they were cowards, slow-moving zombies who could not think for themselves. This gap would not close easily. In fact, it would widen for decades. There was very little respect between those who went and those who stayed home.
I figured out pretty fast that I was not going to get any ticker-tape parades.
The clock ticked relentlessly on. Silence was the best medicine. The unspoken message was, "Don't mention those things. They won't understand." But about 40 years after I tried to "go home," somebody thanked me for my service. That had never happened before. Not once. Surprised and shocked, I had no idea how to respond. Later, I went to Tea Party meetings and was touched that each meeting began with the request that veterans stand and be acknowledged.
Over time, more people thanked me for my service. "What was that all about?" I wondered. Again, I didn't know how to respond. But they asked me to stand, and I stood. This gradual change in opinion toward veterans took some kinks out of the mental rope I had been trying to coil.
But there were dark times ahead. Punks burned a six-mile strip down the center of a city I treasured and another two-mile strip down the sister city. The governor and mayors told the police to stand down. The punks came pretty close to my house. They looked like young college students, misguided, perhaps, but not hardened criminals. Even in a case of self-defense, could I shoot someone who looked like my grandchildren?
I bought an AR-15 and a lot of ammunition. As my wife and I tried to visualize how an encounter would play out, it became obvious it was time to get out of Dodge in order to avoid a confrontation of that sort. During the lockdown, we broke free and went over the state line to a red state. We bought a house in a little town in that red state.
The town was small. There were a few stop signs and yield signs, but no stoplights. Most everybody knew most everybody else. Most everybody went out of his way to make us feel welcome.
Not quite a year went by after we unloaded the last trailer and proclaimed ourselves to be newly minted residents of the little town in the red state. Then came Veterans' Day.
They were "doing something at the school" to observe the day, my wife said. She said we should go.
There is only the one school. I wore a blue hat that says Navy on it. There were other hats in evidence from other branches. A lot of them were American Legion hats. One of the local posts supplied the color guard. Two guys with flags and two guys with M1 Garands marched in and planted the stars and stripes and the state flag in mounts.
The school band played The Star-Spangled Banner. The students and town's residents sang along. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. Some of the veterans gave the hand salute; some took off their hats and put their hands over their hearts. I could never bring myself to salute when out of uniform even though it is my privilege to do so. I put my hand over my heart and realized I was starting to tear up. I didn't want anybody to see that.
The school's fourth- and fifth-grade choir sang "Fifty Nifty United States." They sang the names of all fifty states in alphabetical order twice, once fast and a second time faster.
The guest speaker was a school mom. She got her Purple Heart in Iraq when she got too close to an IED. She looked all right and sounded all right, but there are complications from the wounds that have not been resolved.
After that, the school band played the official songs of each military branch. By that point, my wife was sobbing. Veterans of each branch were asked to stand when their song was played. We had goodly numbers from the Army, Air Force, Marines, and even the Coast Guard, but when they played Anchors Aweigh, there were just two of us. These were people of the land. I was hoping nobody saw the tears.
Then the high school choir sang "Thank You Soldiers." The band played taps, there was a minute of silence, and the color guard retired the colors.
It had been 52 years since I'd worn a uniform. As we left the school, I looked across the street at my wife's church. The town has a population of 1,273, but it has six churches. Quietly I thought, "Thank you, God, for this place and these people. You and I both know I'm not going to get a ticker-tape parade, but I have come home."
Jerry Powlas has been a naval officer, engineer, and publisher and is the author of Red State Rebellion (published under the pen name Joseph L. Bear). "Everybody should read this book and tell their friends." He has recently moved from a blue state to a red state where nobody wears masks and everybody has guns.
Image: The author on his signal bridge on board the USS Newport News.
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