By Marsha M. Brown
In one of my early Gig Line columns, I wrote about the event my sweet Billy and I attended at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on March 31, 2012. It was the ‘Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Celebration’ where more than 60,000 Vietnam Veterans and their families gathered.
Initially I had written this column to honor my husband’s return home after having served the U. S. Army during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam and to recognize the sacrifice of all our military service men and women who had served in Vietnam. However, though Billy was reluctant to attend when we first heard about the event, and feeling it was “too little, too late” 40+ years after the fact, he decided to after all.
After being married to this incredible man just months following his return home in March of 1968, I was still not fully aware of his personal anguish. It wasn’t because I didn’t care or wasn’t cognizant to the fact that he had been through a war…”Hell” as he put it; of course, I did…it was because he kept his pain well hidden from me and our children. Billy had nightmares only a few times after we were married and rarely did he speak about the war itself; in fact, he avoided discussing it and as much as I wanted to understand more about what he had endured, I respected his need for peace, so I didn’t push the subject, prod, or pry. Little did we know the depth of his and other Vietnam vets’ pain…or maybe as a nation we unintentionally turned a blind eye to their heartache…shame on us all.
As in the case of my Billy, he was asymptomatic when it came to nightmares and night sweats and only once when he had an extremely high fever (104+) did I hear him say or act as if he was still in Vietnam. So, when this event came about, and knowing there had never been proper and warm welcoming acknowledgements for our Vietnam Veterans, I hoped he would reconsider and be willing to go…and thank the good Lord, he did.
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Once he decided to attend, I ordered our tickets and booked our room for two nights in Charlotte. The morning of the event, I could tell that Billy was anxious and I could tell also that as much as he had hesitated to go…he was simultaneously eager to mingle with his comrades. As soon as we took the elevator downstairs for breakfast and he stepped into the dining area of the hotel surrounded by all those beautiful veterans, he was in his element.
He talked with several who approached him first, and while I tried not to stick my nose in it, I kept my ear open to the bits and pieces of conversation I could hear and it was good…they shook hands, patted each other on the back…greeted each other with fondness and grins and even chuckles were heard over the noise of chattering dishes. My sweet handsome strong man was among friends…men who felt and shared his pain…men who cried similar tears, shared similar memories, and sadness because of the way in which they were treated coming home.
I sat quietly on the way to the track and when we arrived to park, Billy reached in the back seat to retrieve his black Vietnam Veterans hat and put it on. From that moment until we left the Speedway, he never paused or seem regretful he had participated even through a few tears that trickled down his face when he saw the Huey choppers in the infield…he was truly at his family reunion.
Walking up and into the stadium to locate our seats, I was overwhelmed just in the connection…the familiarity…the kinship between my soldier Billy and the men who passed by him. Sometimes they would look at him and vice versa and draw toward each other as if they were magnets and embrace or speak to each other in passing… “Welcome home brother!”
At one point, we stopped by one of the vendor trailers so he could buy some hat pins for himself and his Vietnam Veteran friends at home and I took the opportunity to sit by another wife whose husband was standing beside Billy shopping for keepsakes. She told me her husband had served until just days before he was to come home when he was literally knocked off his feet during a blast and blown into a ditch. The rocket or whatever had exploded and had caused serious damage to her husband and in particular his face. She said when the medics loaded him up to get him in the chopper, they couldn’t get a pulse and pronounced him dead, however, God saw it differently and while they were flying his body away as a corpse, the medic noticed the zipped-up body bag was wet. Upon closer inspection, he realized it was sweat…then unzipped the bag and realized his patient (her husband) was breathing…barely…but he was ALIVE!
Many years had passed since that time of course but she was thankful her true love had made it home followed by 14 surgeries with more to come. We bonded her and I…as did my sweet Billy with her hubby and when they each returned to the bench where we sat, I noticed his face was somewhat disfigured and he had lost some fingers BUT…he was indeed ALIVE and in the ‘land of the living’! As it turned out, they were a Christian couple who gave God the glory for his life being saved and her husband was employed as a Veteran Service Officer (V.S.O.) in West Virginia because his experiences inspired him to help other vets…they were such a blessing and if nothing else had touched us so profoundly, meeting the alone made the trip to Charlotte worth it.
In essence, GIG LINE started out to honor my husband, Billy, but manifested into something way beyond partially because I saw first-hand in Charlotte that day that the term “brotherhood” was millenniums beyond a ‘phrase’…it is real…it is undeniable…it is like magic. That very detectible bond of kindship far exceeds anything I had ever seen before and the impression it made on me back in 2012 has stayed in my heart ever since.
Billy taught me a lot…the look in he/his comrades’ eyes did too…I will n-e-v-e-r be the same and over the years my love for veterans and their families has grown exponentially. Veterans make me happy…old, young, veteran war survivors…those serving stateside…no matter the rank…no matter the medals…regardless of branch…I love our U. S. veterans everywhere and until my last breath…I am devoted to standing up for you all in every way I can, and I pray God will give me the opportunities to do so. Next week I will write about the granddaughter of a veteran who is going through serious medical concerns right now and I will ask for your prayers and your help. So, until next time, be happy, be safe, and be proud of yourselves and of others who donned our military uniforms. If Patty O’Sullivan (Dare County Veteran Service Officer, office (252) 475-5604 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or myself email@example.com or my cell: (252) 202-2058 can help you in any way, please contact us. I love you all, God bless you and those you love and stay tuned!