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Posts Tagged ‘Oakland Induction Center’

June 2, 2012

This letter is in response to David Sirota’s column, “A legend of spat-upon veterans.”  I looked up your biography, Mr. Sirota, and, as I suspected, you are too young to have remembered the Vietnam War.  Let me give you a couple of personal memories:

My then-fiancé, Jack, actually enlisted in the Air Force in 1967 – contrary to the majority who were drafted.  Our families lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and when Jack’s parents and I took him to the Oakland Induction Center, he had to walk through three solid lines of chanting, yelling picketers to get inside the building.  We were terrified for his safety.

In 1970, Jack came home from a tour of duty – a year – in Southeast Asia.  He’d been stationed up on the Thailand-Laos border at a base that few people knew existed.  During the year he was gone I’d given birth to our first child, our daughter Diana.  Jack’s parents and I, with our baby, drove out to Travis AFB in the valley to greet him on his return home that June.  Again, we drove through picketers at the front entrance to the base.  When we got to the families’ waiting area, there was only one other couple there.  Throughout the terminal, there was complete silence.

The huge C-130 landed, and out of it stepped 200 skeletal memories of the men who once had been.  At 6 feet tall, Jack now weighed 120 pounds.  I could not even recognize him at first.  Finally he came, and we hugged and kissed in joy that he was even alive.  The other soldiers and airmen got off that plane in complete silence – coming home to no one, and no cheers, and no welcome signs.  Just silence.

I don’t know if being spat upon is worse than absence and silence; you’d have to ask the veterans.  I do know that they served during a time of incredible protest against them personally as well as against the war; I clearly remember one instance where a friend of ours was called a baby-killer.  As much as I have always hated war – and don’t even begin to understand it – for me to have protested the war in those days would have been seen as protesting something my husband chose to do.  I stayed home.

Fast forward about 26 years, and my son, John, is getting off a plane in Salt Lake City, returning from a deployment to Saudi Arabia; he had been stationed at Dhahran when the bomb exploded at the housing complex, and had spent 18 hours helping out in rescue and recovery efforts. The airport was crowded with people waiting to welcome home these returning airmen and soldiers, with families holding balloons and signs and cheering.  It was an incredibly welcome difference.

But because things have changed for the better doesn’t mean we should forget what happened years ago.  The scene at Travis AFB is forever burned into my mind, because we let a generation of service members come home with silence instead of a welcome; with insults instead of understanding; with a casual, cynical attitude instead of compassion.  We do need to remember.  Research reports and books don’t always cut it; sometimes you just had to be there.

Sincerely,

Kathryn D. Hubbell

 

 

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