In the thread about "Where were you during the Apollo 11 mission," I mentioned that I was in Vietnam and was less than 2 weeks from coming home. I mentioned that my retrun was a story I might tell sometime and the author of the OP, GrandTheftHarley, asked me to post it.
Apollo 11 splashed down July 24, went into quarantine and were released on Aug 13th. I listented to the Moon landing on radio in Vietnam and made it home to Newark, OH on Aug 4th. Here's my story:
Believe it or not I made it from Cam Ranh Bay, RVN to Newark, OH in less than 24 hours...
...I went from CRB to Tokyo (Yokota AFB) to Seattle/Tacoma (Ft. Lewis WA) to Chicago to Dayton to Columbus. The connections were so close I never sat down in an airport between flights. I could never have planned it that way. It was the just the last of many incidents over the previous year that convinced me that God had taken a personal interest in my combat tour.
I was so wired, so hyped to have made it, to be actually going home, I knew I'd never be able to sleep on the flght. I asked my flight surgeon for something that would knock me out for the Pacific portion of the flight. He gave me two Seconals and said, "Take these with a scotch on the rocks." What a doctor! He was right. We landed in Japan to refuel and I got a scotch, popped the pills and WHAMMO. I remember the take off (Everyone cheered), and then I went out like a light.
Eleven hours later I woke up as we were crossing the Washington coast on approach to SeaTac airport. We landed at about midnight, cleared the military and customs and I went to the first airline counter I saw. It was Northwest. I asked for a ticket to Chicago and she asked where was my destination. I said Columbus Ohio and as she hands me my ticket she says, "Better hurry, that Chicago flight is boarding right now." I got to the gate and I was the last one on the plane.
We get to Chicago, I find the gate for the Dayton flight and, again, they are boarding and I'm the last one on the plane. All I was carrying was a briefcase and my flight helmet bag so that made things a lot easier. We land in Dayton and I just stay on the plane since it's the same flight. By this point I'm almost hyperventilating I'm so close to home. I'm hungover from my "Pacific Coctail", haven't shaved and smell bad...even to myself.
We land in Columbus and I go out front to get a cab...not at all certain that I'll find a cab willing to go to Newark. I got to the first guy and ask, "Will you take me to Newark?" I didn't ask how much because I didn't care. If he'd have said, "$150" I would have hopped in and said, "Drive." He said, "I'll have to call in and ask what the fare is." He got the answer and said, very hesitantly,"That's going to cost you $40." I hopped in and said "Drive."
That drive to Newark was the my first big step back into a world that I'd all but given up on. It was a beautiful day, sunny, warm but not hot. My most vivid memory of that trip was the smell of freshly cut hay fields. To this day I'm certain that that's what heaven smells like. I was coming from a year spent in a company area that smelled like human excrement burning in JP-4 jet fuel. Believe it or not, you get used to it and don't even notice it after a while...that is until you are driving down a road surrounded by freshly cut fields of hay.
I just laid my head back, closed my eyes and enjoyed the incredible aroma. My reverie was interrupted by the cab driver. "Are you going home?" I said, "Yep. Been in Vietnam for a year." The driver said, "And this is you first time home?" "Yep." "What were you doing over there?" "I was a helicopter pilot." I guess he thought about that for a while.
I hadn't told my family I was coming home. They expected me some time after Aug. 7th since that was the day I left. But your "Tour Clock" starts ticking on the date you are ordered to report for transportation so I was three days earlier than they thought I would be.
As we pulled onto my street, I could see my Mom (and my brand new Corvette) in the back yard. I told the driver to pull up to the curb a couple of houses away. I wanted to surprise my Mom. I'm the one who got surprised. I handed the driver fifty bucks and said, "Thanks." He pushed the money back to me and said, "Nope, thank you."
I got out of the cab and sort of hid behind the tall hedges around our yard as I walked up to the driveway. I walked into the driveway and said something really clever like, "Hi there." My Mom screamed and ran to me. As we hugged in the driveway I had a clear view of the cab. He was just sitting there watching a very private homecoming in which he'd played a small part.
As he pulled away, he saluted.