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  • Writer's pictureJack Hager

"Welcome Home" Wasn't

NOTE - I recently appealed to friends/audience to send me any question at all about my life, Vietnam, prison, 45 years of youth/prison ministry, tongues, what it's like dealing with cancer, doctrines, etc. Because of the cancer certain aspects of my ministry have been halted, so am doing other answering questions; which will also probably be part of my second book which is in the writing process.

A friend sent this:

What was it like to come back to the USA and the then-hostile environment to vets? Have you personally experienced a change in attitude toward Vietnam vets?

I came home from Nam in July of 1969 after a tour of duty with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (preceeded by two years in Korea and two months in Germany) All of us on the freedom bird had heard much about the way returning soldiers were treated, so we were somewhat prepared.

Landing at Travis AFB, we could see from the aircraft a couple hundred people and a lot of Air Police and other LEOs. Saw some signs, most of which had language I won't repeat.

We stayed on the plane until the cops had made a corridor through the protesters to the lobby area. As the flight attendants opened the doors we could hear the garbage these people were throwing at us...

As I exited the aircraft I immediately spotted a gorgeous blonde girl - probably in her teens - yelling repeatedly "How many babies did you kill in Vietnam?"

I ignored her. The grizzly Marine behind me was a bit more vocal. He responded "Only as many as I could eat." I don't think the girl heard him.

I went through the discharge process and took a bus to downtown San Francisco. Virtually the entire bus was filled with just-returned soldiers. It was silent.

As we pulled into the San Francisco terminal there was a smaller but just as vocal crowd to "greet" us. I didn't see any fights, didn't hear any of the troops respond. The tension was there, and had one fist flown I think it would have escalated into a full riot. Thankfully nothing happened.

I walked into a nearby department store and was blessed enough to be welcomed by a clerk who did say "Welcome back, brother." He had come home a few months prior. He did not have to ask me what I wanted, but took me to a rack of relatively inexpensive clothing and I purchased jeans, underwear, shirt, light jacket.

I went into a dressing room and shed my uniform and put on the civvies. I debated just leaving the uniform there, but instead asked for a bag and left with the uniform stuffed into the bag.

This was long before I became a Christ-follower, and thus the next few days are a blur to me.

That was my welcome home.

Filling out job apps etc spawned various responses from potential employers; the majority seemed okay with my service, a couple made it clear I wouldn't be hired because of my service.

Fast forward to the Gulf wars - a different situation. The people who were vehemently against the war(s) were not against the warriors. I never saw or heard of a returning soldier being treated the way we were, for which I am very grateful.

Up until a couple years ago I did not wear any "Vietnam Vet" clothing. But then I realized I could meet other vets by doing so, thus I'm almost always wearing a Nam hat or jacket or shirt and have connected with a lot of veterans...

As well as civilians who have thanked me for my service; with a few apologizing for the way we were treated. I've never been treated rudely. In fact, I've had three or four meals paid for simply because I was wearing Nam vet gear.

The fact now is that the war "ended" half-a-century ago. Even though I'm older than dirt a big chunk of my ministry is spent with teens, and most of them have only a vague idea of what happened in Vietnam, much less what happened to returning soldiers.

I am not ashamed or regretful of my time in Nam. The government made it an unwinnable war (that's for another blogpost sometime). We did not lose the country, we gave it away. And

thus millions of lives - Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotions, and the 58,000 names on the Wall - were needlessly killed...and, yes, I think there blood is on the hands of the American government and military leaders at the time, starting with JFK.

I am not smart enough to know whether we should have gone into Vietnam. But I do know if we go in we should go in to win. Obviously nothing was learned in Nam...witness Iraq and Afghanistan.

Just for the record, there are some questions about Nam (and prison) that I won't answer, simply because I do not want to focus on some of that stuff. By the way, if you ever hear a combat veteran blabbing about his experience you might want to look at his nose - it's probably growing.

We may talk about it amongst ourselves, but not with someone who wasn't there.

Vietnam (or any combat) and prison are similar. Doesn't matter how many books you read or movies/documentaries you watch...if you haven't "been there done that" you have no clue.

And that's okay.

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