Home from the war. Ya, that was great. Six years home and I had accomplished a lot, that's for sure. Got my Honorable Discharge from the United States Naval Reserves, got a coveted newly minted college degree, got married and was heading out west with my young bride. It was 1975 and Saigon had just fallen to the Communists. I remember sitting in a bar up in Stevens Point watching the news that night. The night the war ended. The bar wasn't too busy and everyone was watching the news. No one reacted, it was as though the reporter had been discussing the latest dog leash laws. I had already come to the realization that most Americans didn't really care that much about a war that had been winding down to this fateful ending. I knew too many who gave it all for the war. I knew too many who came home from the war with deep unexplainable, never ending emotional pain, which was exacerbated by the homecoming most received via the antiwar movement and the sympathizers to that broad cause.
My wife and I would go to Madison to see her cousin Jaimie before heading to Oregon. Jaimie lived down by State Street, a Madison landmark near the capitol, which during the late sixties and early seventies had been the epicenter of the antiwar movement in the U.S. Jaimie was going through a distinct Hippie phase and I should have guessed that our social events would revolve around something tie dye and smelling of incense. So I was told that we were going to a Mifflin Street Party. The band was set up in the middle of the street. I don't recall much of the event other than it was a fairly decent band covering most of the popular antiwar songs of the era. The future Mayor of Madison, who was very active in the antiwar movement was up on stage and introducing bands, giving short speeches about the great antiwar cause and raffling off a large gallon jar of, according to him, premier weed. The band played all afternoon and into the evening when all of a sudden it is announced that Mifflin Steet would be renamed Ho Chi Minh Trail. I thought it was someone's idea of a bad joke fueled by too much booze and dope. Not so. It was a City of Madison proclamation announced by the future Mayor. Mifflin Street/ Bassett St. intersection would be renamed, to acknowledge its place in the history of the anti-war movement, in honor of the leader of the North Vietnamese during the war. Ho Chi Minh Trail, an euphemism for hundreds of miles of trails running from North Vietnam into the South Vietnam through two neutral countries to carry the munitions of war and destruction into and destroy the Republic of Vietnam. An ironic name for a major street in the peace loving city of Madison.
The announcement hit me like a shot to the gut. I felt disoriented and furious. My mind raced, flooded with emotion. Feeling embarrassed and shame for being in that place I just wanted to get out of Madison and get on the road.
I recalled the homecoming I received when I got back in '69 and reported to the Navy/Marine Reserve Center. Months earlier the radicals had blown up the front of the Navy/Marine Reserve Center so now a security gate was fashioned with an M60 machine gun toting Marine Guard posted behind sand bags. The Wisconsin Capitol building was surrounded by armed Wisconsin National Guardsman, some my friends, not a bullet among them. It was October, 1969 and I was home. I had hoped to be away from war, but it just sat there in my front yard. The War at Home.
Soon thereafter, in the middle of the night, radicals would blow up the Physics Building in Madison because they felt it contributed to the war effort. A professor was killed in the explosion leaving a bride and young child. Later yet, in 1970 the same radicals, terrorists actually, flew 15 miles north of Madison and dropped small bombs on the Badger Ordinance Works. The Badger Ordinance Works produced most of the rifle ammunition for the military. Following that failed effort they turned the plane back toward Madison and dropped small bombs on the Prairie du Sac Hydro Electric Plant on the Wisconsin River.
Welcome home Sailor to a grateful nation.
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