He remembers watching the faces on T.V. as the tears began a salty cascade down their cheeks. He cried as they cried, their impending separation ripping through more than twenty years of psychic dust and debris to lay open the feelings of a 19-year-old kid. The feelings that came as he turned away from the girl he loved and marched across the tarmac toward the plane that would deliver him into the military and the uncertainty that surrounded the Viet Nam war.
He also remembers the faces on T.V. as they returned to an overwhelming display of yellow ribbons, smartly flapping flags, and old-fashioned victory parades. Some of them reveled in the triumph of the moment, and some flushed with embarrassment, but all were thankful to be home. The Gulf war was over and they were all treated as heroes. And he cried again.
The year is 1971. The 19-year-old kid is now 22 and he is sitting in the squadron commander’s office. Quietly, but with a slight waver in his voice, he explains why his roommate has wandered off toward the ridge that overlooks the base. A few months later the young man heads home before reporting for his next assignment. Disappointment sets in when his young wife does not meet his plane. It grows as he unlocks the door to her empty apartment. It turns to crushing despair when he wakes the next morning and finds that he is still alone in bed.
This is one fragment of the era covered by what PBS describes as the “10,000-day War”. It was a war that recorded tens of thousands of American names in black granite and altered the lives of so many others. Those who answered the call of their country in the face of political divisions. Those who, at worst, were reviled for their efforts and who, at best, were ignored. Years later they shared, vicariously, in the celebration bestowed on the Gulf War veterans. Ultimately, however, they realized that, for them, it was one parade too late.