Welcome Home – Journal entries Nov. 1971
10 Nov 1971, San Francisco International
Sitting here in the air terminal at San Francisco and most of the rapture has worn off and sort of a shock reaction has set in. Watching all the unconcerned people, hustling along in their suits and briefcases, it hits me: exactly this, what I’m seeing now, is what has been going on here uninterruptedly the whole time I’ve been in the war. Unbelievable! It is all I can do to just sit here. I feel like my mind will explode. I want to jump up and scream to them, wake them up, tell them what’s happening! They never even think about ‘the war,’ it’s just an abstract thing to them, something that is no longer an issue, if it ever affected them at all.
Rapping with an Army dude just back from 16 months in the Delta who was feeling the same things I was – shock, wonder, bitterness, sadness, shame, joy. And, wonderfully to me, a conviction and determination to tell someone about it.
I consider asking the gentleman sitting next to me if he cares about the war, if he will do anything – but don’t quite have the nerve. He would not understand. But none of them do. They must be told.
November 13 or so, on the final leg of what has been the heaviest trip of my life – the whole year-plus-long trip to the war and back. And now I’m going home for sure, after a brief stop in Phoenix to see C.J. and Mike and Tom and Friends. A heavy scene there, C.J. and her Jesus-freak roommates, College Life and associated friends – got into several raps with her, digging a really heavy rap from Allison’s friend Craig, doing far too much thinking for my own good – Mike and Tom and Perry and their dope-freak friends; and me somewhere in between, a floating psyche, a mad-on at the war the world and the Air Force. And C.J. loves us all, accepts us all…
Just now, a heavy scene at the airport: waiting for my plane, going standby to Savannah, in my freshly-pressed 1505’s with shiny silver bars on the collar and the silver pilot wings a quarter inch above the left pocket – and red-white-and-blue beads I got from the little Negrito woman in the Phillipines, and the little plastic medal Cory gave me the night before I left NKP hanging from my pocket button under the wings. A faint look of perplexity, amusement, occasionally open stares, but no comments, no hostility from people. Then, across the room, coming my way, headed unalterably for me, an Air Force ID…
The Arizona sun burns down.
Across the white concrete, planes and buildings waver, unreal in the shimmering heat.
People wait in the little building, cool in the mechanical breeze.
Through the vast light, a 727 slowly rolls toward them, lumbering in its earthbound way,
in no hurry to continue its eastward flight.
A young man in khakis sits reading,
silver bars on collar, silver wings 1/4’’ above pocket, Vietnam service ribbon above the wings,
as tiny glass beads circle his throat, color against the white tee shirt.
Around his wrist a crude band, sweat staining the peace symbol cut into the dark leather.
A cheap plastic tag dangles from a button like a medal.
Across the room, a man rises,
drawing a wallet from his hip as he walks, lips tight, toward the man in uniform.
He stops and extends the wallet, dropping it open.
In front of the young man’s face, a green and white ID floats, trembling in space,
the edges of the plastic yellow and cracked.
Do you recognize this? Voice like cold flat steel.
Ah, – Yes Sir… it says you’re a colonel. Voice casual.
Good…come with me then. Voice trembles slightly
Out into the heat, past the sign:
Terminal Boarding Room
Delta Air Lines
Five paces from the building, the colonel wheels,
eyes hidden behind the government-issue dark glasses, and
only the twitch at the corner of the mouth reveals his anger.
All this stuff! gesturing, searching for words,
is… it’s not part of the uniform! Voice low, stiffly polite, trembling still.
Yes sir, I’m aware of that. Voice flat, nervous.
What do you think you’re doing? Voice rising.
I’ve worn this uniform too long to see…. the words begin to blur, then stop.
Take it off. Voice cold again, commanding.
The plastic tag goes into the pants,
the beads under the tee shirt
— but they catch on the lapel, an inch of red white and blue still showing.
Get those out of sight! You are stupid aren’t you! Voice menacing now.
The rest of the offending beads go obediently under the tee shirt.
You’re still out of uniform! pointing to the wrist band.
That thing is detachable isn’t it?
You’ve already broken one regulation, you want to try me on disobedience?
I’ve worn this for the last year, sir, but if you want me to take it off too…
Now look, son!
The young lieutenant struggles with the leather knots, tight and hard with wear,
loosens the cords and slips the wide band over his hand,
shoving it roughly into the pants pocket.
Let me see your ID, son.
Yes Sir. Would you like to see my orders too?
Looking at the ID, then the orders, the colonel writes on his boarding pass.
Hands shaking, he hands them back.
Would you like to keep that copy sir? I have lots of them.
No. I’ve got all I need right here. Turns to go.
Sir? You don’t need to worry about me, sir, I kill for you anyway. I put in my year.
You don’t kill for me, son! Walks away.
I kill for your society.
You ought to grow up and be part of it. Still walking.
He stops, glances back, then flings the door open,
re-entering the cool, silent room.
The young man stands outside
watching the 727 glide into place between the yellow lines.
The guide snaps his arms up into a cross
and the plane stops, nosing down slightly, then settling softly into place, ready for boarding.
…Another assist from a Colonel. If I can keep scoring points like this, I’ll win the game yet. Thank you, Colonel. And I didn’t even get his name.