Double Rejection, Doubly Blessed

See picture:  Danny Morison from 2/5 Mortars and myself leaving Vietnam.  I was given a new set of jungle fatigues.  I didn’t have any civilian clothes.  Danny bought his when he was on R&R.

It was January 2nd 1970.  I was excited as my last days in Vietnam were coming to an end.  The monsoon rains had returned and there was no air support due to the very bad weather.   I was a short timer in the bush.  I was stuck up on a firebase observation point, a few miles East of An Hoa and couldn’t get back there to get my gear and head for Da Nang.  I hated the bad weather and I hated the war. The rain was miserable.  Everything wet, soaked, and muddy.  No helicopters flying, no resupplies, no aircraft were flying due to the bad weather.  I was stuck, miserable and couldn’t get out of the firebase to get back to An Hoa to catch a tank ride to Da Nang.    I had my orders for three days, it was now January 6th, to report to the USMC Transportation in Da Nang but couldn’t catch a helio out to An Hoa due to the hard rains.  A rescue helicopter pilot  I new by radio contact only, heard about three of us Marines, needing to get out of the bush and back to An Hoa.  So he came in the rain, landed on our LZ, brought resupplies of food, water, and ammo, and flew us back to An Hoa.  Wish I could have remembered his name.

I threw away my countdown calendar that I had made and carried every day in my backpack.  Finally, for the first time since I had arrived in Vietnam in January 1969, I began not to think about this war, it’s ugliness, and for the first time, I stopped starring death in the face every day since my short seven day R&R in Sydney Australia back in November.   Starring death in the face was a weekly, if not daily occurrence ever since I had arrived in Vietnam a year earlier.  Escape from the war, freedom back in America, no more getting shot at, no more explosions, no more cuts and bruises, no more agony and pain, no more carrying 70 pounds of gear including my radio on my back.

It was true; I was finally leaving Vietnam and headed back to the States.  My initial reaction after leaving the runway in Da Nang and climbing in altitude was that I made it!  I was alive and my whole body intact.  Was I just lucky or did my faith in God get me through?  I was blessed and my mind was in a mass of confused thought.  I do remember after taking off the runway in Da Nang, my mind was flooded with deep thoughts and heavy emotions.  After the airplane turned out over the Pacific Ocean, I broke down and began to cry.

There was something I had to do in my thoughts and that was to say goodbye, goodbye to those I left behind.  It wasn’t fair, that I was out of and away from the war, and my American comrades were still back there fighting the war and remained in grave danger while I was on my way back to America and to safety.  I felt ashamed, I wanted to go back and be with those I just left behind.  There wasn’t any time to say goodbyes to anyone.

After the first hour of shaking and crying on the TWA airplane, I began to calm down and stopped being so confused with all my thoughts and emotions.  First, in my mind, I said goodbye to my dear buddies I had left behind back there in the Arizona Territory.  My mind flashed back to Sargent Major Williams and Lt. Cornel Bowen who I had spent my last five months serving as a radio operator, body guard, aid, and battalion jeep driver.  Then, I began to think about all the guys I left behind back in Hotel Company.  These were the guys I would miss the most.  My heart began to pound, and I began to weep again, if only they all could have come home with me.  I understood then that I was saying goodbye to all of them forever, never in my lifetime to see them again.

After a two-day stopover in Okinawa, Japan for a health checkup and a night out on the town to celebrate the fact that I was finally away from the war and out of danger, I boarded an American airliner headed for San Francisco with a plane load of Marines headed for Travis Air force Base, San Francisco.  I slept the whole second half of the flight home after refueling in Hawaii.

After leaving the ground in Okinawa, I felt better and getting 6 or 7 hours of straight sleep, I also decided to say goodbye again in my mind to a lovely lady I had met in Sydney when I was on R&R.  I was engaged to my Junior High School sweetheart before going to Vietnam and remained a virgin when I returned home to marry her.  I loved her and wanted her to be proud of her Marine so I stayed pure for her.  The girl I met in Sydney was almost 18 years old and just out of High School and working in the banking business.

We met at one of those military/government sponsored dances whose purpose was to introduce American men to Australian ladies.  After treating her kindly and respectfully that night (she was a great dancer by the way), she decided to bring me home to meet her parents and her other siblings.  I befriended her and her family.  It was nice having her write me in Vietnam every day during my last two months in Vietnam since my fiancé had stopped writing me earlier

in the year.

On the plane I had said goodbye to my Vietnam buddies and now it was time to say goodbye to a beautiful girl and her family from Sydney, Australia.  Because of my engagement oath to my fiancé back in the States, I decided I needed to destroy the letters and the address of those who met me, appreciated my service and loved me in Sydney.  I spent an hour or two rereading those letters on the airplane and then tore them up into tiny pieces including the return address on each letter.  I was headed for home, headed for the U.S. Mainland and headed home to my fiancé and friends that loved me.  So I said my goodbye to my new friends in Australia also.  (Several weeks later, I regretted that I did that.)    I never memorized the addresses.

The torn-up letters, the bookmarker she gave me, her photo, and the photograph of her and her family together, that I had kept in my pocket, I placed in a trash can when the airplane landed at Travis Air Force Base near San Francisco.

Before getting off the airplane, I had imagined how we were going to be greeted at the airport and ready to be thanked for our sacrifice for serving to keep America free.  I imaged it to be greater than my dad’s experience when he came home at the end of WWII.  But it was three o’clock in the morning.  No problem, the big parade and welcome was going to be when I got to Treasure Island at the Navy base.  But it never happened.  I never got a welcome home.  I never got a parade.  I never got to hear the words, “Welcome Home!”.

It was surreal.  I realized that I had survived the war.  I was transitioning back into another world, a world of peace, safety, and most of all back to my family, friends and my fiancé.  I was going back to what I had left behind a year earlier when I left for Vietnam.  Only this time, I was coming home a hero, a war veteran, a survivor, or least I thought . . .

When I got off the plane at Travis Air Force Base, it was 3:00 AM in the morning.  It was a military airport with no one there but those of us who got off the plane and a few Marines telling us to get on the busses parked outside or take a taxi to Treasure Island, San Francisco.  There was no greeting, no crowds, no press, no welcome home, no signs, no one but a few Marines telling us where the bathrooms were and where to find transportation.  When I arrived at Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay, I expected to see some “Welcome Home” banners and probably some press to greet us.  No whoop-la, none, just a Corporal asking my name and telling me where I was going to bunk for the next couple of days.

That same afternoon, I was asked if I wanted to be a Drill Instructor at MCRD, San Diego after taking a three week leave of absence or just go to Camp Pendleton to be discharged from the Marine Corps on an early-out-program President Nixon created to go back to college.  I chose to go back to school.  Two days after arriving in the States, I was on a military bus headed for Camp Pendleton.  After arriving after dark (it was January), we were given a barrack to sleep in.  Unfortunately, there were more guys than there were bunks.  I slept on the floor but who cared, we were back home.  There was not enough room to house all of us.

The next morning, there were several of us who were singled out during our 4 AM role call muster.  This was the beginning of my fourth day back home and only sixth day out of Vietnam.  We were told that because we had lived within 75 miles of the base when we enlisted that we had to leave and come back for the 4AM muster every morning until we were discharged.  I rented with another family near my fiancé’s home when I enlisted.  So, off to Los Angeles I went at my expense by bus to arrive at my fiancés home.  They were shocked but happy when I called them around 7AM that day to tell them I was on a bus to LA and needed a place to stay with them.  My family all lived south of Buffalo, New York at the time.  I didn’t understand until several weeks later why the welcome home was so awkward.

After borrowing a car, I travelled daily to Camp Pendleton for roll call at 4:00 AM for six days until I was finally called into an office.  A Second Lieutenant handed me my discharge papers and said “Get the hell out of my Marine Corps and off this base you civilian (cuss word)”.  And so, I got back in my car at 4:40 AM on January 14, 1970 and left for home.

My first few days were strained.  I was still coming down off my guard that I wasn’t facing death every moment and that I didn’t have an enemy in front of me.  I was also caught up with a lot of emotional thoughts about leaving the guys behind in the war and the awkwardness of being a civilian.  I knew I had experienced things that no one else in this household had experienced.  I knew enough to smile and tell everyone I was glad to be home.  But I found myself wanting to be back in Nam helping the Marines I had left behind.  I kept quiet.  My fiancé kept her distance.  Her parents opened their home to me and hugged me often in disbelief that I actually made it home from the war alive.  Five days later I decided to leave there to travel home to see my parents in New York State.

. . .  Society rejected me.  My fiancé rejected me.  When I got my first pass from Camp Pendleton to go home (I lived in the Los Angeles area), I learned that my engagement had been over seven months earlier.  Neither my fiancé, her girlfriend, my best friend, or her parents had informed me that she fell in love with some else, four months after I had left for Vietnam.  She rejected me, her family was embarrassed, my friends rejected me.  My parents lived 2,500 miles away in New York and I hadn’t seen them in four years.  I found myself alone, rejected.  No one understood me. No one understood the pain and agony of the war I came home from.  All my friends changed but so did I.  I learned to become angry.  I was angry because nothing was the same when I came home from the war.  I became angry because my fiancé rejected me, my past friends rejected me, America rejected me and no one understood the pain and agony of the images and nightmares I was experiencing from the war in Vietnam.  No one cared except my mother and my God.  Ok, in fairness, my dad cared too.  He just didn’t understand my pain.

My older brother and my dad were in the Marine Corps.  They didn’t understand me either.  They were never in combat; they never experienced death and the ugliness that comes with it every day for a year.  For them, they were soldiers and heroes who marched and wore the uniform proudly.  My dad was welcomed by the people of the city of Seattle with a parade when he got back off the ship when the war ended in WWII.  He had been out to sea for two days, headed for the South Pacific, when the ship turned around headed back to Bremerton, Washington because the war had ended.  He never got to the war, was never in combat but got a warrior’s welcome when he returned home.  My brother got to shoot an M14 once off the bow of the USS Boxer aircraft carrier during the 1960 tension with Cuba but saw no action.   I on the other hand was a fool, rejected by my Country and fellow citizens and my fellow friends and family members that could not relate to any of my experiences, pain, and frustration.

I’ll never forget that first early morning when I was sleeping in the guest bedroom and my mother, bless her soul, decided to present me breakfast in bed.  Unfortunately, as she began to open the door to the bedroom with a tray of fresh bacon and eggs, pancakes, toast, orange juice and hot coffee, I leaped into the air at her and decked her to the floor.  I stood over her for a moment and then realized where I was, she was knocked out cold.  When she came to a few minutes later, she began crying very loudly.

I thought I had killed my own mother.  She had a bad burn on her arm from the hot coffee spilled on her but that wasn’t why she was crying.  She wasn’t crying because I had almost broken her jawbone and her skull, she was crying because she saw the look I had in my eyes when I leaped out of the bed towards her.  She understood then that the Marine Corps and the Vietnam War had turned me into a killing machine.  She told me that she loved me and was deeply sorry for what horrific experiences I had been exposed to, I told her that I loved her but please don’t ever approach me when I am sleeping.

During her lifetime, my mom always wanted to know about my combat experiences and feelings about the war.  She passed away many years ago as of this writing and I never told her much about the war in Vietnam.  I wish I had.

After visiting my parents and traveling to Tennessee to visit my twin brother, I left to go back to Los Angles to find a job and start back to college.  I came back to something different, things had changed.  The sexual revolution had devastated my circle of church going friends and students from the college.  Many were sleeping with each other and most of the girls in my circle weren’t wearing any underclothing anymore and most of them smoking pot.  They had burned their bras and were giving their underwear away to any guy who asked for them.  This was a bizarre new culture I had never seen or experienced before.   When I got drafted and went into the Marine Corp for training, we still respected each other and practiced the Judeo-Christian ethics of morality.  Things sure changed back in America from what I knew while I was away serving my country in Vietnam.

Here at home, I found many of the guys in my old circle of friends smoking pot and protesting the war and rejected those that served in it.  I was rejected, spit on, called names, all because I had served in and survived the war and then came home.  At that time, I wished I had died in Vietnam like my high school friend Jim Adams.  Why did I survive?  Why was I so hated by my past friends?  Why did my fiancé stop writing me my last six months in Vietnam?  Why did she cheat on me and have sexual relationships with a coworker while I was in Vietnam?   I kept my engagement vows to her, she decided not to because she was convinced along with others that I was coming home from Nam in a body bag.

After a few weeks home from the war, I began to realize that life in Southern California had changed over the few years I had been gone.  I went in a different direction and most of my friends went in another direction.   I also woke up to the fact that I wasn’t engaged anymore.  My fiancé had rejected me when I was in Vietnam for another guy.  I realized that I had no fiancé, no friends, no family nearby and was truly alone.  I didn’t know anyone in my college classes.

I put my life into work at Lockheed and at church volunteering to record and distribute church sermons to guys back in Vietnam and to elderly shut ins.  I also volunteered to work in a youth program at my church to keep me

busy.  While overseeing this youth program, a married couple and their children accepted me and brought me into their homes.  Dick and Doris Bird will forever remain in my thoughts and in my love as they accepted me for who I was and were proud that I had served as a Marine in Vietnam.  Doris would greet me each week at church and say, “You are my hero! My Marine” and give me a hug.  When refereeing games and sports with the kids, Dick would sometimes look at me and solute me as to say, well done and thanks for serving in the war and serving to help these kids grow.

It took me two years to get over being very angry about being rejected by a fiancé, and friends, a double rejection.  I could not understand nor process in my brain why Americans rejected the Vietnam War.  I was sure that most Americans had it wrong about the war in Vietnam.  We had to win.  I was there.  I bled on the battlefield.  I called in Medivacs for guys that were maimed by booby-traps. I held men in my arms that I cared for as their souls passed into eternity while fighting the enemy and communism on the battlefield.   I did everything I could do to defeat the enemy and yet stay alive and protect my fellow combat Marines.  How could anyone protest the war, walk away and not support it, not defeat the enemy?  My guys were still fighting for freedom and against communism so America could remain free from it.  Wasn’t it about justice and the American way?  Wasn’t it about fighting on their soil rather than ours to defeat communism from spreading?  That is what I thought and what I believed.  The more I watched the Vietnam War protests on television and watched retuning soldiers from the war being disliked and mistreated, the angrier I got.  The sad part was that I couldn’t do anything about it.

With the help of those like the Bird family, the study of the Scriptures, a Bible believing church, and understanding God’s love for me, my anger melted away and my heart healed from the awful pain from the war and from the sad rejection I experienced after the war.  The Marine Corps taught me that I am bound by duty of God, Country, and my fellow Marines.  To always remain faithful to God, to the mission at hand, to each other, to the Corps and to country, no matter what.  Honor, courage, and commitment are the core values that guide every Marine. This is who I was.

God has blessed me with a second chance, a wonderful family – Rita my lovely wife, Todd, Brent, and Paul our three sons and our three grandchildren.  God has blessed me with a wonderful career in computer technology.  My family is the focus of my life and will be for as long as I live my remaining days on this earth.  I have been truly double blessed by God.

I’ll always bear the mental scares of the war in my mind with flashbacks of memories and wear the physical scares as a reminder that I proudly served my Country and my God in an unfriendly, non-supported war, the War of Vietnam in 1969.   I attend reunions now to help my fellow Marines I served with in Vietnam to cope with everyday life and be an encouragement to them.  They too are family.  I also built and support a website for all combat veterans who served in Vietnam in Hotel Company 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division to honor and show my appreciation for their sacrifice and their service in Vietnam to our nation.

Larry D. Tyler

1969 Vietnam Veteran

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