There are lots of heroic stories out there about veterans. Sometimes the simple stories of service and kindness are important, too.
On November 22, 1969, John, a 21-year-old Army Sgt E-5, was on his way home from Vietnam. He was with the 1/44 Automatic Weapons Battalion in I-Corps and had been wounded when they were overrun on LZ Buff (aka LZ Stinson) back in May 1969. He'd been in Vietnam for 1 year.
And now he was going back to the "world" and was planning to marry his high school girlfriend a week after he came home and to continue his career in the Army as a Drill Sgt. He knew he was one of the lucky ones--his cousin had joined the marines after college and had been killed in 1966 just 3 months after going in country. Several high school buddies were also killed in the war.
He saw the "cherry boys" coming off the plane at Cam Ranh AB--they didn't have tans and they were reacting to the heat and stink--the guys going home were used to it. He got on a "freedom bird" flight to Japan and then a flight on to Seattlel. From Fort Lewis, he got rid of his jungle fatigues and got a new uniform and was then taken to Seattle International for the flight home.
After they loaded the regular passengers on the Eastern Airlines flight to St Louis, it was time for the military passengers to board. As he got on the flight, the stewardess looked at his ticket and told him to sit down right there in first class. "But, ma'am, I'm flying stand-by and I shouldn't ... " "Shut up and sit down! "she told him. The next guy in line had also been in country and she sat him down across the aisle. The rest of the military passengers--the ones with the real short haircuts, few ribbons, and no tans--were moved through first class in to coach.
John and the other guy going home were wined and dined all the way to St Louis, and the cute red-headed stewardess even told John she had a layover in St Louis, but he was focused on going home to his girl and just smiled. He didn't know yet that the world was not going to be interested in hearing about what had happened to him in the war. He would learn that Vietnam vets had to shut up about the war and rarely admit to having been there.
Since life happens to you and plans change, John didn't go to DI school and got out of the Army once his 4 years were up. He got a job and had a successful career. He did marry his girl, and they had 2 daughters but they divorced in 1991. He self-medicated with alcohol for years after Vietnam and got into some trouble but found recovery in 1979. Then 10 years after that, he started to talk for the first time about his experiences in Nam, and his recovery from PTSD began as he helped other vets struggling with alcoholism and addiction.
He told me this story of that kind stewardess as we ate breakfast this morning at our favorite coffee shop, and we both were choked up at how important that small kindness was to him. He proudly put his Purple Heart plates on his 2003 Corvette when we bought it 2 years ago. He loves that car, but he also loves every vet he meets, especially his Vietnam Vet brothers, and always says "Welcome Home."
He made quite an impact on my son and his buddies and my entire family when we married in 1994 when my son was only 14, but he'd be the first to tell you that he's just an average guy with an average story of duty and service and recovery.