I read Col. Robert Simpson's Sunday article on the reception of troops returning from Vietnam and the flight attendants on board the flights. Yes, in most cases we were not too well received. But some of us did receive more than just a lukewarm reception.
I reported into Cam Ranh Bay on my way home in March 1969. That night we were mortared and rocketed, and most of us spent the night in the bunkers. We boarded our Northwestern flight outbound to Japan wearing only jungle fatigues.
The flight attendants welcomed us aboard in a rather subdued manner. Prior to boarding we (senior NCOs) were told there would be no liquor, etc, carried on board. Sure of course.
As the wheels left the ground, a cheer went up, and so began the most wonderful flight I have ever been on, before or since. We broke out the bottles and the smiling flight attendants provided the soft drinks. We landed in Tokyo just long enough to refuel and use the bathrooms, then on to Anchorage, arriving around 3 a.m. as usual. Again, refueling, bathroom, looked at the mounted polar bear, then off again.
We arrived at Fort Lewis, Wash., around 8 a.m. Sunday -- cold, drizzling rain, miserable weather, and were bused into the post. They, surprisingly, were waiting for us: The band was on the platform playing "Stars & Strips Forever." The senior officer, whoever he was, welcomed us; the warehouses were opened and fully staffed. We were fitted and interviewed for decorations, stripes, brass and all the things needed for our uniforms, even issued a topcoat, then bused to the barracks where hot showers were waiting. By the time we had finished, our uniforms, perfectly altered, pressed and ready to wear, were delivered and fitted perfectly.
We dressed and were herded over to the mess hall where we were served a steak dinner, grilled to order with all the trimmings. Afterwards, with words of thanks and gratitude, we were provided transportation to the airport for our further trip home.
It was wonderful: Probably several hundred people in the Seattle area were involved, and there was not a single complaint or cross word from any of them, just smiles and welcome back. Remember, this was a Sunday morning and they had probably been there since very early morning on a miserable day.
I, and all the troops on my flight, will never forget the wonderful welcome we received, and I will always have a warm place in my heart for Fort Lewis and the people involved from the Seattle area. I know we were not the only ones they welcomed -- there were flights arriving nearly every day
Then we arrived at the airport, and the people and other passengers avoided us; some looked as if they would spit on us. And so we spent our waiting time in the bar.
Today, we veterans try make our returning troops feel welcome and appreciated.
Unfortunately, it's not a common action among our population in response to increasingly unpopular military interventions.
James A. Earhart, a retired Army master sergeant, lives in Columbus.