Archive for November, 2014

Coming Home

If you are a veteran that’s been to war I’m sure you remember what it was like when you came home. We went to town the day the 269th Engr Bn from Live Oak came home from Iraq. Thousands of people had turned out to welcome them home. Flags were waving and people were cheering. Our church was there because of Gerald Creech and his nephew Robbie and others we knew. Gerald is a fellow deacon, and a two time war veteran, having served in Desert Strom with his son Brian. The bus let them off in town so they could march to the Armory. Watching them march down the streets of Live Oak brought tears to the eyes and lumps to the throat. Finally veterans coming home were shown respect for their service. They stood tall and we stood proud.
I have made it a point to thank servicemen for their service when I have the chance. Recently I saw one paying for his dinner at the cash register, and I went up and asked him if he would he allow me to honor his service by paying for his meal. Thankfully he did and I did. You may think that is trite, but read on and you will see why.
As a two tour Vietnam Veteran my homecoming was much different. Last year I wrote and posted a tribute to Veterans on my blog for Veterans Day 2013. While writing it, all the memories of that time came flooding back. Even now a year later while selecting and editing my stories for a book I’m writing, that one evokes emotions long kept pocketed. While I think I can understand the anger at the war back then, I will never understand the dislike and disrespect for the warriors that came home. I never will forget leaving Vietnam after my first tour. Actually, I was sent home about two weeks early. My brother Kenny had a brain tumor and was fixing to have surgery. I was getting ready to go on my last flight before my regular return date. The company clerk came out to the flight line and handed me the following message:
To: Commanding Office Date: 7 June 1968
1st MI Det.
APO SF 96240
From: American Red Cross Subject: Emergency Message
Office of the Field Director
APO San Francisco 96240
The following message received this date verifying that servicemans brother is to have an operation. QUOTE: Msg HARE 818 from Chapt Albany, Ga. RE Sp5 Alvin D. Butler RA 14883774 D Det 1st MI Bn (ARS) APO SF 96249. Dr. Lowery Neuro-surgeon states ten year old brother Kenny to undergo surgery Monday 10 June. Brain Tumor. Dr recommends svemn presences. Advise soonest.

I still have that message and copied it exactly as it was written. You can only imagine the emotions going on inside of me. Happy to be going home to my family, but sad to leave men that had become closer than brothers, all the while holding a message that my baby brother is suffering from a brain tumor bad enough to get me sent home for the surgery. My company commander put me on a flight to Saigon, where the Air Force put me on a C-124 Jet that was filled with caskets. I rode home in the cargo section of that plane next to a lot of brave men that had died serving their country. Except when I was invited to visit the cockpit my only view was those caskets. As much as I love words, I have none to express how that felt.
After a stop in Japan, we landed at Travis Air Force Base at Oakland, California. I was bused over to the section where incoming personnel from Vietnam were processed. There I was given a new uniform, and a partial pay. After I put on the uniform with all my metals and my shiny silver wings, I just stood there in front of the mirror, proud. Proud to be going home, proud to have served my country, proud to have survived.
About a dozen of us were put on a bus to the San Francisco Airport. As we were pulling into the terminal, our driver, (who apparently made several runs a day), told us to stay away from the bunch of people in front of the terminal with signs. There were a few cops standing near them, keeping them away from the entrance. As we got off the bus they started yelling at us. I couldn’t really understand what they were saying, but their signs said it all. That was a wakeup call. From that point on, and for many years, it was “All dogs and soldiers keep off the grass.” From the ticket agent to the people running the concession stands, and even the people on the plane to Atlanta, it was if I smelled bad or something. I saw only a few friendly faces during that time. No welcome home greetings anywhere. I simply could not understand. Had we lost the war and I had not been told?
However, all that was forgotten when I got off the plane in Atlanta and saw my beautiful smiling wife and my grinning dad waiting at the gate. They had driven up from Albany to meet me. God was in His Heaven and all was right in my world again. It was on to Albany to see my darling daughter, Missy, my mom and other brothers and sisters. I went to the hospital and saw Kenny. The doctor said that surgery was too dangerous for him, so it was canceled. He lived just over a year after that. That was one homecoming that will stay with me, till I see him again on that great getting up morning. And that’s all I got to say about that.


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