Friday, December 28, 2012

Welcome Home

Norman Rockwell's work covered more than fifty years.  The time span included WWII which was the focus of many of his paintings.  

My father served in WWII, along with three of his brothers and his brother-in-law.  Their service wasn't something they talked about with us kids, and I don't have any recollection of any of them talking about it with each other.

When I was older, I asked my father, a number of times, about his part in the war.  He skillfully avoided my questions, and finally I got the message and stopped asking.

Then I went to war, and I found out why they didn't talk about it.  Vietnam became a subject I never discussed, at least not until Operation Desert Shield became Operation Desert Storm.  When that happened, I had to talk, but I only wanted to talk to people who understand, people who had been there, and I didn't know a single Vietnam Vet, at least I didn't think I did.  So I did the first thing that came to mind.  I ran an ad in my local newspaper, the Fort Payne (Alabama) Times Journal.  

It was a small ad in the classified section that read, "I served in Vietnam.  If you served in Vietnam and would like to talk about it, let's meet at The Best Western and talk over a cup of coffee..."

A week later, I was at the restaurant a half hour early, with no idea what to expect.  I walked through the door, took a step or two and someone called out, "Hey, are you Carson?

"I am," I replied, searching for the owner of the voice that had called out.

I spotted him, a tall, man with a crooked grin that spread across his face when he said, "Well, Carson, you're late."

I glanced at watch, confirmed that I was a half-hour early, looked up and said, "I'm thirty minutes early."

Without hesitation he said, "That isn't what I mean.  You're twenty years late calling us all together to talk."

I grinned as everyone enjoyed a laugh.  "I guess you're right about that," I said.

At that moment, Donna, the night shift waitress came to me and whispered, "Your friends have scared all my regular customers and they've left, some without eating.  Can I move you and the rest of your group to the meeting room in the back, where the coffee is on me?"

I said, "Sure," looked at the motley collection of men who had answered my ad, and said, "There's free coffee for us in the back room."  

As they stood and began moving toward the meeting room, I realized that Ed Williams, the man who owned the service station where I purchased gas and had my cars serviced was there, along with Jim Bryant, a man I'd met when I spoke in Atlanta a week earlier, Ernest Parker, the manager of the office supply store where I'd done business since moving to the area eight years earlier, along with three guys I knew from my barber shop and one from the auto parts store that I frequented.  

Altogether, twenty-seven of us met and talked that night.  We met again the following Tuesday evening and formed an organization called Vietnam Veterans Southern Command.  At the second meeting we agreed that only Vietnam Veterans, that is, those who actually served in country, could join.  Our objective was to create a space where a Vietnam Vet could talk freely about his or her experiences in Vietnam and at home since returning from 'Nam.  

For the next five years, we met weekly, went to meetings of similar units in the area, and we traveled to The Wall for Veteran's Day Reunions three times.  What we actually did was heal untreated wounds, by talking, by listening, and by just being there for each other. 

At The Wall, the first time, a gimped-up man with haunted eyes, looked at me and said, "Welcome home, Brother."  We grabbed each other and embraced in the shadow of that great slab of black granite which is engraved with the names of over 58,000 men and women who never had the opportunity to "talk about it."

Do you know a vet?  If so, take a moment and tell them, "Welcome home."  There's magic in those two words.

Tomorrow, Number 15 in Norman Rockwell inspired blog series.  It's called No Pool and this is the Rockwell painting I'll use to illustrate it:


  1. You are truly a saint, Bama! Those men probably still thank God for you every day!!

    1. And me for them. It's OK to be weird, nice to find out you're not crazy. You are weird and I love it.

  2. Bert, Welcome home. I'm glad you survived. I'm glad you made it back home. And home is glad you're here. The Vietnam years were the worst for courageous soldiers doing what they were asked to do. Vietnam was deadly. Home was where the war began and only lately have I seen the wounds begin to heal. For some, lately was too late.

    1. Thanks Caleb,
      I appreciate it - probably more than you can imagine.

  3. What a great post that touched me deeply. You know, Bert. I still have never been to the 'Wall'. Maybe someday. I have learned to release somethings that built up inside-- that I really didn't know were there until later in life. Well done, brother

  4. Thank you for your service, all you do, and ... This.

  5. Bert, thank you for your service, all you do, and ... This.

  6. Bert, as the daughter in law of a deceased WWII, Korea, and Nam vet, thank you for your service and for all you do. Welcome home! We love you, respect you and admire you for all the hard things you've had to do in your service, in keeping us safe.
    My grandfather was a Norman Rockwell fan, and these photos you share evoke some very powerful memories of him, thank you for that too! I will be back to see some more!

  7. I can't tell you how much I love this .. thank you!

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