Write Again . . . And then I was home

Published 4:20 pm Monday, May 2, 2016

We were up at the usual time — 5:30 a.m. — which was standard when in garrison.

I stripped my bunk, folded the bed linens, and rolled the flimsy mattress into the “s” configuration.

After the usual teeth brushing, etc. I headed for the chow hall. I don’t recall if I bought a copy of “Stars & Stripes” that morning, which was a daily habit.

After breakfast, I think I just skipped the daily morning formation. No one seemed to notice, I suspect, or really cared.

For the past couple of weeks I was sort of in a non-persona limbo. An involved part of the 502nd Armored Medical Company (Sep), attached to the 3rd Battalion, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, stationed at Fort Skelly, Regensburg, Germany, I wasn’t. To appreciate such a status, one would have to have been a “short-timer” in the service.

“That” day had finally come. After 29 months — from late November 1959 to late April 1962 — I was going home. After spending seven months at Fort Knox, Kentucky, in I Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Armored Cavalry Regiment, before going to Germany, I had now almost reached the end.

But first, those of us going back to the states loaded up that afternoon on a deuce-and-a-half for the short trip down to the hauptbahnhof. There we boarded a train for the overnight trip all the way up to Bremerhaven.

Ahead of me lay a “sea cruise” aboard the USNS Patch. That turned out to be not exactly like a Carnival Cruise Line experience. An understatement, for sure. Nine days at sea, with a first night layover at Southhampton, England, after crossing the English Channel.

Before setting out across the Atlantic I took the recommended dosage of dramamine. As I recall, that was the first thing that came back up. But not the last. Oh, Lord. Please let this pass. And it did, after several rough days. Almost, with just a touch of queasiness remaining from time to time.

But, oh! Coming into the harbor at New York, seeing the Statue of Liberty, knowing I’m back home to my own land — there simply aren’t enough words to describe that once-in-a-lifetime feeling. Can’t be done. To think of it even now can easily bring tears.

A buddy and I spent the night in a motel in New Jersey — my first night as a brand-new civilian — and set off for the sunny Southland the next morning.

We made it to Wilson in late afternoon, where we then parted, he heading west to meet his dad in High Point, who was at a furniture show, then on to their home, Kansas City.

I caught the next bus — probably the last bus — to Washington. Little Washington. The Original. My hometown.

My dad met me at the bus station. When we pulled into the yard, that balmy spring evening, my mother was looking out the kitchen window, saw us pull in, and let Fella — our beloved Boston Terrier — out the back door.

I said something like, “Hey, Fella,” and he came to me. It was my first time being home since September (on leave) of 1959.

Now it was May 2, 1962.

And I was home.

Even when I think about it now, after so very many years — so many, many years — I rarely fail to become emotional.

I’m not ashamed of it, either.