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Subject: Going Home

Bill Bellinger
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Date Posted: 08:44:55 11/30/05 Wed

When it got close to time to go home, you were ‘short’! Everyone had a ‘short-timers’ stick or a ‘short-timers’ calendar. And then there were the ‘short’ jokes. “I’m so short I need a step ladder to get out of bed in the morning.” or “I’m so short I use a rifle cleaning patch for a poncho.” The favorite ‘short-timers’ calendar was a picture woman with 30 numbered areas on her body. You colored in the numbers as you got closer and closer to number one, the day you left to go home. When you got ‘short’, you could ship your ‘hold baggage’ home. You were given a large wooden box that you would fill with all the goodies you bought at the PX. A lot of GIs bought stereo systems, TVs, cameras, etc. I bought a TV that I couldn’t use in Danang because of the 50-cycle Vietnamese power. There was only one channel to watch anyway. I bought a Sony reel-to-reel tape recorder and a miniature (16mm) Minolta camera. My Sony ‘reel-to-reel’ still works after 40 years. I sometimes listen to some of the music I taped or my roommate taped for me in Danang. My roommate was an Army pilot. He would get all the latest music from the States from his Air Force buddies. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Animals and all the rest. You could ship your footlocker home too. I still have the footlocker I used in Vietnam. I didn’t have a ‘short-timers’ stick or calendar. As the time grew closer to going home, I remember being happy to be going home but also sad to be leaving all the friends I had in Vietnam. They say you have the best friends of your life when you are 10 years old. I believe that. From time to time, I’m still in touch with friends I had when I was 10. But I also believe that the Army buddies you had in Vietnam were also the best friends you’ll ever have.

I didn’t know the actual date I was leaving until a day or so before. When the time came, Captain Young, the CO, drove me to Danang Airbase. On the way I asked him if he would stop by the Navy BX in East Danang so I could tell a friend of mine goodbye. My friend was a young Vietnamese woman who worked as a cashier at the BX. When I told her I was leaving, she gave me a small box of French pastries for my trip. I don’t know how she knew I was leaving that day, because I had not told her. There were tears in her eyes and in mine when I left. I often wonder how she and her family fared under the communists. I flew from Danang to Cam Ranh Bay. The thing I remember about Cam Ranh was how huge the place was compared to the small compounds I was used to in Phu Tai and East Danang. I spent the night at Cam Ranh. My jungle fatigues and boots were worn and dirty so I pitched them. I now wish I had kept them. My flight back to the States was much better and quicker than my flight over. There was only one stop in Japan. We flew to McCord AFB near Seattle. When we arrived, there were no brass bands to welcome us home. There was no one to greet us and thank us for our service.

I took a military taxi to Fort Lewis and checked into the Visiting Officers Quarters. I was very tired, and disorientated. I spent the night at Fort Lewis and made arrangements with the Army tavel office the next day for a flight back home. When I arrived at the Seattle airport for my flight home, I was told that the flight was full. I waited, hoping beyond hope for a seat on that plane. Then I watched as they closed the doors and rolled the stairs away from the airplane. And now I was going to miss my flight home because I had to fly military standby and there was no seat for me. Then they began to roll the stairs back to the plane and re-opened the door. They called my name and I rushed out to board my flight home. They gave me a seat in the first class section and I received first class service all the way home. Thank you American Airlines!

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