Welcome Home, G.I.! (or parking diagonally in a parallel universe)


This is another tale of the Sweaty Young Man, as we find him now in late Apr 75 still in the Philippines(PI), trying to sleep midday with a broiling Sun overhead.

His bedroom door is locked as he tries to sleep. He must sleep when he can, as all personnel at Clark AB had their work schedule increased due to the demands of the mass evacuation of South Vietnam, along with Operation Babylift.

Then there is a pounding on his door and his roommate yells for him to wake up and open the door. He peels his sweat soaked body from his bed and staggers to the door, wishing he hadn’t stayed up after work and drank so many San Magoos. Opening the door his roommate was standing there, gave him a quick glance and chuckled, as he could see how incoherent the sweaty young man was and that all he was wearing was what God had given him. His roomie stepped back, chuckling, and said that the Red Cross was trying to contact him. The sweaty young man, he didn’t know how to react to this, all he wanted was to go back to bed, and did, as his roomie made one last attempt, loudly, to get him to respond to this info.

A few hours later the sweaty young man had to go to the Air Base and take care of a few things. While taking care of some paper work in preparation for returning to CONUS(continental united states) in mid-May, a Sergeant at the office who he didn’t really know, said with a serious look on his face, that the Red Cross is trying to contact you. He realizes he has heard this info before and that it wasn’t just a dream, thanks the Sgt. and goes to contact the Red Cross.

What he soon discovers is there is a family emergency back home concerning the welfare of his two daughters and that there is to be a hearing in a courthouse in a small town in East Texas in two days, three actually, as the International Dateline returns the twenty four hours it borrowed two years before. The Red Cross said they would assist him in anyway possible, so he asks them for an official statement that he can take to his Commander and NCOIC, which they promptly provide with copies. He doesn’t have a plan, but knows he must report to his Commander’s office immediately.

He gets to the Squadron Hqs. not long before everyone leaves for the day and contacts the NCOIC, who reads the letter, asks a few questions and is able to usher him straight to the Commander. The Commander reviews the letter, as the sweaty young man wonders what his life has in store for him now.

Orders are issued that the sweaty young man is relieved of duty immediately, is ordered to process out as quickly as he can and is to be given whatever assistance he is needed to depart for home the next day. With those orders in hand the sweaty young man is quickly out the door and headed for his apartment to try and figure out how he is going to accomplish this, to deconstruct his life for the past two years in only a few hours and egress a country, and it’s people, that he had become so attached to. HOW? Where does he start? He has furniture, a motorcycle, some expensive stereo equipment, peach crates full of LP’s, all items that need to be shipped, which he was going to do himself in the next few weeks, but now there was no time. He needs to get home fast. So he throttles the Honda CB750K3, for what would prove to be his last ride on his beloved motorcycle. The motorcycle he had bought in Fussa-Shi, Japan, disassembled, cut the frame, mailed back to his address in the PI and reassembled with a friends help, then had a custom paint job applied. It was his prized possession.

The rapid ride home helps clear his mind. The pleasure of riding a well tuned, high performance machine has always had that effect on him. Adrenaline is his friend! A plan has begun to take shape and he hops off of his bike with much more focus than he had only minutes ago. First, he must contact some of his friends to see if they can, or will, assist. His roomie is able to assist and will ship some possessions with his household goods, as he was due to leave at the same time the sweaty young man was, in about two weeks. Another friend is willing to sign a power of attorney to sell his motorcycle for him, as he had determined it the best thing to do. The stories of how vehicles were treated/vandalized on the ship to the states was disheartening and the fact that his new duty station would be the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Co. and is not the most favorable bike riding climate, were the considerations in that decision. With those problems solved, there was only time to pack up his personal belongings, at least most of them. His tailor made clothes, his custom made shoes, his uniforms, camera equipment, all had to be packed and hand carried. That would mean one stuffed duffle bag, one stuffed alert bag, a large camera case, a cargo backpack, a backpack, a large plastic bag, a brief case and one metal case containing some precision gauges for tuning the multiple carburetors on his beloved Honda. These weren’t ordinary gauges that one buys at a local parts store. No, these were purchased at the Honda motorcycle factory Hqs. near Tokyo and were precision gauges that typically only a factory trained mechanic would purchase, as they were quite expensive(more about these later). The sweaty young man kept his bike in peak tune and made a little money from his friends by helping tune their bikes, as well. With the night turning to day the sweaty young man has no time or need for sleep, there is too much to do…he’s going home!

Morning comes, he tries to say goodbye to as many of his friends as he has time for before he heads on base for his journey home. He had to hire a jeepney to take him to the base and a taxi at the main gate for the five mile drive to the base offices, trudging through each step of the way with seven bags of different weights and sizes. Personnel office…check. Finance office…check. Base hospital…check. Supply office…check. As he proceeds through processing out, he remembers when he arrived here two years previous; it took a week to process in and he’s doing the reverse in mere hours. He meets his friend at the JAG’s office to sign the power of attorney and is able to stop by his friend’s office, a Captain that worked in the International Law office. They had many professional dealings together and he was a good and decent man, someone that he had to say goodbye to.
Then he was done and could now proceed to the base terminal to catch a military hop back to the world.

As the sweaty young man approaches the terminal, the crush of people and traffic due to the mass of people, aircraft and crews involved in the evacuation of Saigon, is clearly evident. Arriving in front of the terminal it’s a blur of frantic, some desperate, people moving in and out, seemingly with no purpose. As the sweaty young man trudges to the counter with all of his gear he meets a young Sgt. he knows, as he is a Security Policeman as well and works in the customs office. He shows him his orders and inquires as to the availability of any hops to CONUS. He learns there is availability on an Operation Babylift flight going to Los Alamitos NAS, in Los Angeles leaving in about an hour. As the Sgt. performs his duties he suddenly gets a concerned look on his face while reviewing the sweaty young man’s paperwork. The SYM is informed that his International shot record is terribly out of date and regulations don’t permit him to allow the SYM to leave the island without updating all of his shots. His heart leaps out of his chest…he has to get home, today! If he leaves any later he will miss the hearing, the opportunity to see his daughters and perhaps, God willing, get custody of them from his ex-wife(the daughter of Satan). The Sgt is conflicted. He realizes what the delay could mean, but he has his duties and his status to consider. In the military it’s CYA, at all times. The Sgt. looks around the terminal, there is chaos surrounding them and no one even notices them talking. He looks at the orders issued by their CO to lend all possible assistance and he relents, stamps what approval is needed and wishes him good luck.
He’s going home!

Finally, after all that has transpired in less than twenty four hours the sweaty young man takes his seat on the C-141, configured for transport, not cargo. The removable seats are in place and are facing to the back of the airplane, not the front, which is actually much safer in the event of a crash. The doors are closed, everything is happening fast now as the flight line at Clark is overloaded with aircraft, civilian and military, for the massive undertaking of evacuating as many souls as possible from Saigon as they can before it falls. The plane taxis onto the runway, throttles up and they are rolling. Going homedamn!

He doesn’t know how one learns these things, but one does acquire knowledge from other service members. One tidbit of info that he didn’t remember acquiring is that a C-141 should rotate out in under thirty seconds from the moment they are throttled up. When the aircraft is throttled up the SYM reaches down to his Seiko watch and activates the stop watch feature. (Why did he do that?) Aircraft don’t get as much lift from hot air as they do from cooler air and the heat rising from the tarmac was searing…not much lift today.

As the C-141 picks up speed the SYM looks at his stop watch, twenty seconds, not much longer now. Twenty five seconds, he settles back in anticipation of rotation. Thirty seconds, still rolling, still gaining speed. Come on, come on, let’s get airborne! Thirty five seconds…oh s**t-oh s**t-oh s**t-oh s**t-oh s**t-oh s**t-oh s**t!
Thirty eight seconds and they rotate…at last. There are no windows, he can’t see how close to the end of the runway they were, he couldn’t see the familiar neighborhoods, he couldn’t see his beloved PI one last time.
He’s going home!

Shortly after take-off and slowly climbing to 37,000ft, medical service tech’s began circulating through the craft and he was greeted with a four month old little girl, Thi Thieu Nguyen Van Hong and he was instructed to hold her and care for her until they reached Hawaii. He had no option and after a while, looking at this beautiful, innocent child, he wouldn’t have had it any other way. She was an evacuee from an orphanage in South Vietnam and clearly an Amer-Asian infant. Her life, though much shorter than his, was just as uncertain and turned upside down as his, as they hurtled through space to the same destination in LA and more uncertainty from there. She was to be adopted, he was not. Events were completely out of her control, while his control over events was tenuous.

Another piece of info he had acquired was that the C-141 carried 150,000 lbs of fuel and burned 15,000 lbs of fuel per hour. It took them eleven hours to reach Hickam AB, Hawaii and he never discovered where that additional 15,000 lbs of fuel came from.(Did he really need to know that?)

From there to LA, after many hours, where the aircraft was greeted with much fanfare and the children were off-loaded before the military personnel on board.

Time!
A commodity the sweaty young man had very little of now, as it was now around 7p.m.PST and he needed to be in a courthouse in Texas in just over twelve hours. He was supposed to continue on this aircraft to Travis AFB, forty miles north of San Francisco, then catch a bus to the SFO airport and fly to Dallas, then Shreveport. Time was up! The sweaty young man did the quick calculation and informed the aircraft Commander he was getting off here and somehow catching a ride to LAX. The Commander just shrugged and said be sure to check in with the nearest AFB, as soon as he could. He caught a ride on a bus with the orphans and their sponsors, complete with Police escort, all the way to LAX. He didn’t know which airline to use, he had been gone from the states for two years and much had changed, but surely all airlines fly to Dallas. He was wrong, he needed Delta, which was several hundreds of yards further down the terminal. So he hires a Sky Cap to help haul his gear, as he only has about thirty minutes to catch the flight. With the Sky Cap’s help he reaches the ticket counter, they issue him a ticket for military standby and he proceeds to security.
Security!
He had forgotten about that. As he begins to load his bags onto the conveyor belt, with a seemingly disinterested inspector, he saves the metal box with the precision gauges for last. He informs the inspector that this is a metal box, the xray won’t penetrate it.(time-time-time) She states, without much interest, place the box on the conveyor belt. As soon as it passes through, she states the xray won’t penetrate it, he will have to open it.(*sigh*) He opens the metal box and what the inspector sees causes her to hit the red button and three burly officers come running. Inside the box, are four identical gauges, with the word HONDA emblazoned on each dial in red ink. In addition, there are four thin metal tubes in their designated storage space and four long rubber tubes coiled around to fit into the box. While two officers check the box, the other officer is standing in his face. He was a pleasant, yet professional man and chatted with him while the inspection took place.(time-time-time) Then, from the other side of the security area, some guy yells out Baby Killer directed at the SYM, as he was the only person in military uniform. He was shocked and found it quite humorous, considering what he had been involved in, trying to save children from the NVA and a life of misery in a communist state.

After about a ten minute delay with security he gathered up his belongings and began to run, as best he could. There wasn’t much time left to get on board the last flight out that night for Dallas. As he runs through this long, winding, bright white tile tunnel, he is alone and he wonders where the lights are coming from, they aren’t visible. It’s like something out of 2001 Space Odyssey.

As the sweaty young man reaches the gate counter the attendant is just removing his clip-on tie and unbuttoning his collar, as he slams his ticket on the counter. The attendant informs him that the plane just being pushed away from the gate was his flight to Dallas.

Shock. Disappointment. Despair. Angst. You name it, the SYM man felt it at that instant. He couldn’t leave now for about five hours and was stuck in a terminal, by himself, in a strange land he used to live in. He needed to call and let his family know what had happened and what time he would arrive in Shreveport…God willing. So he goes into a phone booth and the realization that much had changed in his two years away struck him like a bolt of lightening. The phone had buttons instead of a dial…that was different. Also, there were instructions printed on the wall on how to direct dial. Direct dial? WTH is that? All of his life when a long distance call was made you called the operator. It was at that time the sweaty and confused young man realized he had been without sleep for over two days, had disassembled his life of two years, traveled 8,000 miles, missed his flight home and couldn’t comprehend much anymore, let alone a phone. So he calls the operator and states he wishes to make a long distance call. Her response? Well…you can dial it yourself! Then…click! He can’t believe how rude she was and that she wouldn’t make the call. He tries to read and understand the instructions for direct dialing, to no avail, he can’t concentrate and decides to call the operator again. What are the chances of getting the same operator in a city the size of LA? As one might now imagine, 100%. When he realizes he has the same operator he quickly explains he has been out of the country for two years, that this is new to him and he desperately needs to contact his family. The operator relents, grudgingly, and states she will, but that it would cost him more. Fine! Here’s the number! After making the call, he is now alone again in an empty terminal with hours to kill, so he pulls out the book he hadn’t had a chance to read in several days. It was an autographed copy of Solzhenitsyns’ ‘Gulag Archipelago,’ that his Aunt had gotten for him, after attending his lecture and waiting in line for hours to get autographed.

Finally, the hour came and he boarded the flight to Dallas and was standing in the brand new DFW International airport within hours, waiting for his connection to Shreveport where family would be waiting for a fast one hour drive to the courthouse. Somehow, he was actually going to make it on time. He was almost home! He couldn’t wait to see his family, especially his kids, his Mom and his Grandmother, the sweetest woman to have ever lived.

While he has a few minutes he asks another G.I. if he will watch his gear while he uses the bathroom. For some reason he keeps the book he has been reading with him, perhaps fearing it might walk off, perhaps it’s because he has now been awake for about seventy hours and isn’t thinking clearly.

As he finishes in the men’s room, he places the book on the metal shelf below the mirror, above the sink, while he washes his hands. He turns to his right for some paper towels and turns back to the sink, to check his appearance and…his book is gone.
Welcome Home, G.I.

12 Responses

  1. your ex-wife must have been related to mine. 🙂
    This is a wonderful story n2l. Thank you for publishing it here. Great way to start the new year, and I’m certainly looking forward to your next installment.
    nuke

  2. Good thing we weren’t sitting around the camp fire with me telling this story, instead of typing it. This was the short version.
    When I get the chance, I will tell the story of the three day bender, the sweaty young man goes on, with his best friend.

  3. N2L I saved this until this evening – there was no way I wanted to rush it prior to setting off for work this morning. I just didn’t want it to stop. A impelling narrative. Drew me right into a world I know very little about.

    We went to see Miss Sigon at Plymouth recently. The man nect to us was in tears as the faces of the adompted children were shown on the stage. At half time he told us that his son had paid for thme to see the show. His son was one of those children.

  4. Dang, vimto!
    I’m alternately flattered and honored by your comment. I had hoped to convey the urgency, and the complexity of this episode, without being tedious. Thanks.
    I can relate to the gentleman you mention. Many times I have gone to the various Operation Babylift sites, and rummaged around the contents and links, with a desire to see if I could find out what happened to the infant that I cared for on the journey home. I wanted to bring comfort to her, but she was precognitive, and any comfort I afforded her was primal. On the other hand, cognitively speaking, she was huge comfort to me. I didn’t need to be thinking of myself, at that time. Everytime I start reading those sites about the orphans, and remember seeing what was happening in Saigon, and in the PI, the empty looks, the eyes filled with dispair and uncertainty, it always makes me weep, or it’s my allergies, take your pick.
    Much has been said and written, about that period of time, and there were even lawsuits brought about, concerning the adoption of those infants, but I will carry in my heart for all time, the knowledge that we made a contribution, and helped thousands of young children have an opportunity at a full, and hopefully, happy life. Like the quote in the Operation Babylift hyperlink said,

    It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can do only a little. (Sydney Smith)

  5. n2l-
    I also set this to side until I had the time. Missed the soundtrack- youtube still locks up my Mac.

    Quite the story, Dog. I will expect an autographed copy of your book when it’s finished.

    I didn’t realize that your ex was my ex-sister-in-law. So far no houses have dropped on any of them, dammit.

    -your fellow baby-killer (I must be one, JayGee Kerry said so)

  6. Fastac! How ya been? I’d call you up and say “hey” but if you thought my voice was soft before, you wouldn’t be able to hear me at ALL with the case of laryngitis I’ve got. I’m communicating with SwampMan largely via sign language (he tells me what to do, and I give him a sign). G’night, and be good.

  7. WhatUp, Dog?
    Henh…yeah, Ol’Satan must have gotten busy. At least he has a new chew toy to entertain him for awhile.
    Yeah, one of my old buds, and my sis-in-law are telling me to write the book. I’ve been threatening to do it for a while now.
    /but most people don’t respond well to threats

  8. I wanted to thank you for the post. I have been sitting here with my son looking for information about this for a report he is doing for school. he goes back tomorrow and I looked everywhere! Thanks again! Have a nice night!

  9. Joanne, if you are referring to the Sweaty Young Man, that would be me. There is another of his tales posted a few days ago, and there well could be others.

  10. […] Plodon Nice to make your acquaintance, and am proud of the work you guys and gals are doing at Vets for Freedom. I’m an old vet from the ‘Great Asian Vacation.’ I wrote a story about coming home, at the first of the year. If you have several minutes, you might find it…interesting. Welcome Home, G.I.! (or parking diagonally in a parallel universe) […]

  11. […] also: SYM: Welcome Home GI Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Viet Nam And Clarity Of Purpose!Viet Nam And […]

  12. […] I came home just as Saigon was falling, more than two years after combat operations ended, and yet, I still had some mental midget yell “baby killer’ at me at LAX. I heard of much worse greetings by returning combat vets. […]

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