James H. Smith


Forty three years ago today (March 3, 1967) at 3am I stepped off the Grey Hound Bus on Oak St. in Ashland Oregon. It had been snowing and there was about two inches on everything. The snowing had stopped and the full moon was out, it looked kind of like a postcard. I picked up my duffel bag and walked to my folks place, about three miles in my dress greens and low shoes. I had come from a hot jungle into a fairy tale world.

Forty eight hours before this I had been in a combat unit in Vietnam, so stepping off the bus in Ashland Oregon was a shock to the system. At that time I didn’t know just where I belonged, I felt at times I belonged in Vietnam more that I belonged in Ashland, Oregon.

I looked at the mountains this morning and the snow is low but not on the flats, still it took me back to stepping off that bus. The bus I stepped off of forty three years ago yesterday.

What is forty three years? To some, more than two lifetimes. Men I knew who never were allowed to have a life, families who never knew their Dad. Who are these men whose names live on a black wall? They are family, forever much more than a name on a wall. So sad they will be forgotten, children already forgetting and Grandchildren not even knowing who they were.

Now all of us brother Viet Vet’s seem to be falling by the wayside faster these days.
I remember standing one morning along the side of hi-way ten in Vietnam, we were lining the dead alone the road, The VC on one side and the Americans on the other, I remember thinking a waste, but they all look like they are just asleep, just boys asleep on both sides of the road.

I had been on the bus from San Francisco and just before I got on the bus to head home, a man came up to me and spit on the sidewalk and said “ be out of town before dark or we will cut your throat”. I couldn’t believe what he had said, but I was leaving town anyway so it didn’t matter. I couldn’t quite understand if he was against the war and violence why he wanted to hurt me. Then on the bus ride home I thought it funny no one sat close to me on the bus. Then just before we got into Ashland a woman came and sat in a seat close to me and asked if I had been in Vietnam and wanted to know how many people I had killed. You see I didn’t know at the time I was labeled as a baby killer and drug user; I found that out later as I was then well informed.

Thirty days later I was on a bus headed for Fort Carson, Colorado when a woman fell down on the floor of the bus next to me and started screaming how I had been killing her brown brothers; their blood was running off my face and hands.

Welcome home! So good of you to answer your country’s call. About this time I was ready to head back to Vietnam where the girls might treat you nice, if you ever saw one.

I always thought it was sad it took another Vietnam Vet to say welcome home; it seems like most everyone else wished we would just go away. They were either embarrassed or afraid to have us around, you know those Vietnam Vets can go crazy at any time.

Well I guess I’ll go to bed and stare at the ceiling awhile, these anniversaries sometime cause a small loss of sleep.

Enough ramble and disjointed thinking, after all it’s been forty three years.