My coming home day, 32 years ago
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2002 23:47:42 -0700 (PDT)
This is my coming home day, 32 years ago today I came home from the war. Came home on a beautiful summer day to one of the most memorable riots in L.A. history, and we have had some memorable ones.
The day I came home is still vivid in my recolection, all my friends were at the airport, some had made banners, it was a really cool homecoming.
I was glad, I was home. Uncertainty was in the horizon. I was not sure what my life was going to be like from then on, here were my old friends from the block, we now had little in common. I had just left behind my new friends from my new life, that was also though. I was suffering mixed emotions.
I remember Sgt. Barrows saying goodbye to me at the Seatle airport, he said, “Mendoza, you take care of yourself,” and he was off, I have not seen him since.
On the flight home from Seattle I met a man who owned his own business. He told me to look him up in Burbank when I got out of College, I did, but he was too busy to see me then. I will never forget the look on my mother’s face when she saw me, first thing she said was,” you are so skinny”. She made sure I was not skinny for long.
I was feeling melancholic this evening so I went on a long drive just to feel the wind in my face. As the sun was going down behind the San Gabriel Mountains I could not help but notice how much it looked like when the sun was going down behind the mountains near the DMZ. So much has changed and yet so little has changed.
Many of us have not left the Nam behind. Some of us have left it and never recalled it. I, every August 29 recall that day vividly so I will never forget what it was like and how it was……The Faces, The Sounds, The smells, The Silence, The mosquitoes, The good times, The lousy times, The parties out on night operations outside of Nancy, the stews in the steel pot, the football games out on the field, bunker guard, night ambush, incoming, the heat, the wet, the gook kids, the water buffaloes, the red clay, the dirt, c-rats, mail call, chopper blades, Napalm, Supert Sport laughing, Al Hall singing, Smokey Lane dancing, Capt. Spruill kicking ass, Capt. Nice bullshitting, 3-0 Yankee “repeat that”, Kaufman “DON’T SAY REPEAT ON THE RADIO!!”, R & R , burning shit, writting home, flicks from home, dear John letters, letters to penpals, being short, Peterson standing at attention, my dog, Jim Clark, Big Daddy.
I never want to forget, I would like to see all of you again someday.
Love ya all,
My Son Justin works full time, and attends Bible College in Texas. Yeah Coop right close to you all!! Anyway here is a paper he wrote for one of his classes, and I wanted to share it with you all! Kid
What Shapes Us
There are numerous events we go through in life that shape us into the people we are. I believe two of the most influential are the traumas we experience and the handicaps we are born with.
Trauma is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “a bodily injury” or “a mental shock.” Roget’s Thesaurus defines it as “severe mental or physical pain.” Agony, anguish, confusion, derangement, hurt, injury, shock, stress, suffering, torture, and wound are all words that signify trauma.
A handicap is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “any encumbrance or disadvantage.” Some of its synonyms are affliction, burden, disability, hindrance, impairment, limitation, restriction, and shortcoming.
I was born with club feet. By the time I was a few months old, I was wearing my first set of casts. Before I could walk, I dragged myself around like a seal, towing my casts behind. I had corrective surgery on both feet, before I was four years old. The surgeries corrected the deformity but left me with irregular looking feet and obvious scars. Up until the age of five, I was in and out of casts and corrective shoes. Wearing casts on and off through one of the fastest growing stages of life left my lower legs atrophied. Upon entering kindergarten, I walked through the doors on crutches bearing my last cast. My handicap was purely physical, unlike the mental trauma my dad experienced.
Halfway through his senior year of high school, my dad joined the army and headed to Vietnam. He was in the infantry division as a recon scout. He carried an M-60, the biggest rifle issued, putting him right on the front lines. At one point during the war, he was out in the field for over seventy days, in combat, with none of the conveniences we so easily take for granted. I saw a picture of him that had been taken when he returned from those seventy days. He was nineteen; he looked like he was thirty. He watched his friends die, and he killed people. They stacked the dead bodies in piles and burned them. He was the youngest in his platoon. They called him, “The Kid,” a nickname that signified belonging. This was in stark contrast to some of the names he was called after the war and to some of the phrases I heard as a kid.
The words still sting.
“You sure have skinny calves.”
“Look how flat your feet are.”
“Why does your ankle bulge out on the side like that?”
I hated the fact that my feet were the way they were. Whenever my handicap was exposed, every bit of insecurity I possessed surged forth, especially at an age when any blemish brought embarrassment. I wanted nothing more than to just fit in. I always felt different from the other kids. Not that I chose to feel that way, I just did. I hung around the “cool” kids at school; I played sports, but a part of me didn’t feel like I belonged.
My dad returned from the war with the same feeling. He walked out of a combat zone into a country that referred to him as a “baby-killer.” He was not applauded nor honored. He was spit on. He was taunted. He was looked down upon by a generation that was supposed to be his. Where was his place in the world? He returned to a society he no longer belonged to. The free-spirited, peace-loving movement of the day did little to make a soldier feel welcome. He would not allow this to dictate who he would become, and like me, he would defy what life was trying to deal him.
The doctor told my parents that I might not be able to play sports because of my feet. By my junior year in high school, I had participated in basketball, baseball, soccer, track, wrestling, football, skiing, snow-boarding, kayaking, rock-climbing, and mountain climbing. I became fiercely competitive and would leap at the chance to prove myself in any challenge. My dad approached a very different obstacle in much the same way.
An article in a local newspaper featured him. The story was about soldiers who were unable to find work after the war. My dad gave the most formative years of his life to serve his country. In combat, he made some of the most incredible decisions a person could ever be faced with, and mere months after returning, he was sweeping floors at a lumberyard. He was confused and resentful, but he would not allow it to control his life; he would not be held down. Within months, he would become the manager of the lumberyard. Sadly, both of our triumphs were also accompanied by sorrow.
I started drinking my sophomore year in high school, and by the end of it was doing drugs. I loved the escape I found in these vices. I was able to forget my handicap and my insecurities. I hated the return to reality.
Likewise, my dad turned to drugs and alcohol to hide his scars. The pain and emotional turmoil he suffered due to the things he saw and experienced in Vietnam took their toll on him. He was left with a weight he couldn’t bear and dreams he couldn’t separate from reality. Any release from this was welcomed. Through God’s mercy, we both eventually found the true healing we longed for.
Just before my twenty-second birthday, God took hold of my life. A few months later, he used me to reach my dad. From the insecurities we faced to the unhealthy patterns we had developed in our lives, God helped us begin the process of mending. The burdens we bore were surrendered to Him. Through Jesus Christ, we were made whole. The old man died, and a new was born. We went from hopelessness in our personal battles to having faith in God’s love and grace. He took the broken pieces of our lives and put us back together. And He continues to do so. Hey you
Have A Blessed Day!!!