They came down from the north, quiet and
determined Screaming Eagle warriors returning home. Behind them
are the battlefields without names and the towns with names no one can
pronounce. Behind them are the dust and the rain and the heat and
They arrive at the 101st Airborne Division
Replacement Co. in a mood of cautious optimism, All year they have
seen others leave. Their eyes have occasionally caught a glimpse
of a homeward bound commercial airliner.
Still, they know records can get misplaced,
exotic diseases can keep them in quarantine, the rear does get rocketed,
airplanes do crash. Going home is important, and even the remotest
threat is not taken lightly.
Replacement Co. is a pleasant surprise.
Out-processing is done quickly and efficiently by clerks who smile and
treat each Paratrooper with the respect he has earned
Harassment doesn't exist. The few days of
waiting are spent having uniforms cleaned, acquiring needed insignia and
ribbons, clearing war souvenirs for the trip home, getting
At night, there are the luxuries of movies and
clubs and showers and PX's....and there is more talk.
Conversation is strange. It is not the
amiable conversation of civilians or the rough good-natured banter of
soldiers. Instead, there is a series of individual dialogues, near
soliloquies lost in the silence of deep thought.
Subjects for discussion are limited. Talk
of home is confused, excited and a little apprehensive. A lot
changes in a year, and no one ignores the fact he is going home a
partial stranger. Everyone wonders about the changes and how he
Talk of the war is limited. Men speak of
friends and good times. They discuss the war as a political issue;
combat and death are forbidden topics.
One soldier learned to appreciate things.
"Simple things," he said, "like a floor or a bed or three square meals a
day. Things I knew I was lucky to have....I never knew how lucky
Another Screaming Eagle found out what it means to
carry responsibility. "Before, there was always someone backing me
up. Over here, if you don't do your job, someone gets hurt.
It makes a big difference."
"You can't be selfish here," said one trooper.
"Other people are too important. If you are going to make it,
you'd better take care of your buddy. You need him awfully bad."
Some mean learned about the Vietnamese.
"I was fortunate enough to work with them on many occasions. At
first, I thought they were inscrutable Orientals," smiled one man.
"Then I saw that they were people just like back in the states.
They're trying to raise their families and send their kids to school and
get better jobs. Some things are pretty universal. I really
hope things work out all right for these people."
More than one man came to know his God better.
"A year makes you realize there is more to living than having a good
time," one soldier said.
The plane tickets usually arrive on the fourth
day. It's the end of the waiting. The baggage is on the bus,
and everyone is sitting on the benches of the outdoor theater. The
Division comes to say good-bye.
A senior officer appears on the stage, and his
voice is filled with pride as he tells them what they already know but
need to hear. He tells them of the courage they have shown and the
hardships they have endured. He talks about the terror and the
boredom, the seven days a week they worked and the job they did.
Then it's over. The band switches from
martial music to "California Here I come." The buses are loaded
and start to pull away.
And then it is there, through the bus windows,
thumbs up. The eternal, cocky, confident thumbs up that came
before and after the worst of them -- A Shau, Cu Chi, Song Be, Quang
Tru, Hai Lang, Phuoc Yen, Phuoc Vinh. The thumbs up that has
always been and always will be there as long as there are Screaming