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Lance Johnson - U.S. Army

ProtestorsMany of the planes carrying returning soldiers landed at Travis Air Force Base, California, and I’ll never forget the huge crowd of people there to greet us at the airport.  In those days, anyone could walk out onto the tarmac and meet an incoming plane, and as we taxied to our parking ramp, I counted over a hundred.  A sea of faces, but far from a welcoming committee, these people were war protesters, outraged at the return of the government’s little criminals.  So strange to see the long hair, beards, facial jewelry, tie-died clothes and leather sandals, as though they all shopped at the same store and if asked, would drink the same kool-aid.  To my eyes, they looked like automatons, vaguely human but certainly not American, and it suddenly occurred to me, they thought the same about us.

As we stepped off the plane and descended the stairs, their angry voices filled the air, and they waved signs and banners in our faces and chanted peace slogans.  Still in my jungle fatigues and boots, I carried an old Chinese rifle – a war trophy souvenir from my days with the Duster battery.  When the crowd got a look at that weapon and me, it was like deflating a tire.  The air went out of them, and for several moments, I heard only hushed whispers and uncertain expressions of dismay and expectation.  For them, a terrible and frightening epiphany, the mentally deranged, blood-guzzling, baby-killing Vietnam war veteran of their worst nightmares now stood in their midst – armed.  When I reached the tarmac, everyone’s eyes remained glued to the weapon and several silent moments passed before someone in the rear of the crowd found courage, and the chanting resumed.

  • At the time unaware he fit any portion of that unflattering description, symptoms of his posttraumatic stress disorder would soon present Lance with harsh reality.

My parents came to the airport to welcome me home, but in all the commotion, I walked right past them.  Funny, they didn’t recognize me, either.  However, we found each other at last, and Mom cried.  Dad told me how proud he was, and I shed a tear of my own.  They told me Joan had been too busy and couldn’t make it up from Los Angeles to greet me.  Five days later, I was discharged from the U.S. Army.

My homecoming reunion with Joan was strained and sad.  We’d last seen each other in Hawaii on R&R six months earlier, and things hadn’t gone well.  I thought she’d changed from the person I married, and she thought I had.  I know now, of course, the truth lay somewhere in between.  Like two people who casually meet and never dream of exchanging intimacies, Joan and I were strangers to each other.  She’d long since quit wearing her wedding ring, and I guessed she’d been fooling around for months.  Two hours after I arrived, we looked at each other across her kitchen table and both knew our marriage was over.  Nothing more to do or say, I just got the hell out of there and never looked back.  For me, that part of my life was finished.


1. Ordinary
2. Dating the class secretary
3. Artillery training
4. Special Forces Camp
5. Firing at anything that moved
6. You're not going ot believe this
7. Asked to accomplish the impossible
8. Welcomed by war protesters
9. Anger
10. Like a trapped schoolboy
11. Dissociative flashback
12. Still in love