SPECIAL REPORT: The Hero's Return Home

By: Denise Bradberry Email
By: Denise Bradberry Email

America's heroes have fought for freedom for the United States throughout the country's history, each time returning home to a different culture.

Soldiers making the transition back to everyday life have become a part of the American story itself.

It's hard for our younger generations to imagine a time, when our soldiers weren't welcomed home at an airport with music and cheers, but for many of our veterans still living, their homecomings were far from a celebration.

"It was all together different. I felt like I had missed out on so many years back home. People talked about things I knew nothing about and it took me a while to get adjusted again,” says William Henson who was part of the air force’s occupation forces after WWII.

For many World War 2 veterans the return home meant taking a bus back to their hometown

"The one at home I liked the best. To see my mom and dad and girlfriend who is now my wife,” says WWII Veteran Bob Boettger with a big smile.

"It had been over for a while and the dock workers in New York City was on strike,” says WWII Veteran John G. Little, "So we knew things were back to normal if the dock workers were on strike."

James Hunter served in both Korea and Vietnam and says the two returns were very different.

“Coming back in ‘66 it wasn't really a problem because I had a lot of my troops with me and we were still dressed out in almost like combat gear,” says Hunter, "Coming back in ‘72, yes, some of it was kind of hostile.”

"I went in during Vietnam and I recall the days where the nation didn't particularly appreciate our service,” says Vietnam Veteran Lee Tucker, "I was spit on at one time and called a baby killer.”
One African American Vietnam veteran told News 4 he still had a lot of bitterness in his heart because after three tours in the jungle of Vietnam, he returned home only to be hated and still unable to even eat at the same restaurants as his fellow soldiers because of the color of his skin.

"They didn't tell people they were in the military because of the way they were treated, the names they were called,” says VFW Post 3073 Commander C.J. Watson.

Today, most of our soldiers return home to cheers and hugs.

"Oh it was great. The people at Atlanta airport we walked through, they clapped and cheered. People were standing there at the gate waiting for us,” says Afghanistan Veteran Steven Cole.

Their biggest challenge has been the adjustment to American life.

"I hear a loud noise and I’m jumping around. If I see something in the road I’m very cautious about what it is,” says Cole.

But many older veterans say now they're starting to see the country's patriotism extend to them as well.

“If I wear one of these hats, they come right up to me and say thank you,” says Korea and Vietnam Veteran James Hunter as he points to his Veteran hat.

“I was on the honor flight and the reception we got on that honor flight was something I’ll never forget,” says WWII Veteran Bob Boettger.

"I just appreciate what the country's doing for us now too. They're not forgetting us and still remember us all,” says WWII Field Artillerist Lee Rice.

Many of us are left wondering what makes the difference in these returns.

Is it public support of the mission, the number of family and friends involved in the fight, or the culture itself?

Wednesday we'll hear from veterans who talk about the different needs each generation has as time goes on and how the wars they fought have affected them physically and mentally.

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