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All About Home

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The hit Broadway musical-turned-film “The Wiz” is one of my all-time favorites. It is a retelling of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” with an African-American twist. I have vivid childhood memories of seeing R&B recording artist Stephanie Mills play Dorothy live on stage, then being blown away by Michael Jackson’s portrayal of Scarecrow in the film. This cast didn’t just follow the yellow brick road; they eased on down it. Ingenious! I think one of the best songs from “The Wiz” is the finale, “Home.” It begins:

When I think of home, I think of a place where there’s love overflowing. I wish I was home. I wish I was back there with the things I’ve been knowing…

Throughout the month of December, Veterans History Project (VHP) staff has been thinking of home, too, particularly as it relates to veterans. In a three-part “Folklife Today” guest blog series titled, “Making It Home,” VHP staff explored stories of military servicemen and women who found themselves stationed far away from loved ones and friends, the struggles that ensued trying to return and the joy–and sometimes disappointment–that they felt once finally reunited.

Color photo of man in field with boxes and other materials on his lap.  Man is smiling and is in military uniform.
Mark Ryan Black surrounded by packages and letters from home, Vietnam. Mark Ryan Black Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC2001/001/12749.

In “Making it Home: Missing Home,” VHP Liaison Specialist Christy Chason discussed nostalgia, or homesickness, as a very serious effect of war; it was once considered to be a deadly medical condition. Chason shared the stories of veterans Mark Ryan Black and Alexander Standish. Though serving in two different wars, both men used letter-writing as a means of coping with homesickness, a way to find some semblance of peace and normalcy in the midst of combat. Unfortunately, only one of the two was able to finally reunite with his family.

Color sketches on envelope that depict soldiers returining to San Francisco.
“I Have Returned!” December 24, 1945. Samuel Lionel Boylston Collection, AFC/2001/001/1848.

VHP Liaison Specialist Owen Rogers wrote about veterans’ often daunting task of physically trying to return to their loved ones and friends in “Making It Home: Journey Home.” One of the featured veterans, Samuel Lionel Boylston, had to wait his turn on a lengthy list of soldiers seeking to return stateside at the end of World War II. Once finally there, Boylston found a bit of solace in the taste of home he received courtesy of the steak and French fries he ate during the train ride home.

Color photo of man in military uniform with woman and small child.
Michael-John Prendergast reunites with his wife and son after his tour in Vietnam. Michael-John Prendergast Collection, AFC 2001/001/47955.

In “Making It Home: Welcome Home,” the last in this series, VHP Liaison Specialist Andrew Huber compared and contrasted how two veterans experienced reuniting with family after their tours of duty ended; one was met with the not-so-uncommon cold reality of returning from an unpopular war.

Share your thoughts of home in the comments section below or on any of the “Making It Home” blog posts, then share featured VHP images that resonated with you wherever you share compelling information–Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram or Pinterest–using the hashtag #VHPatHome.

As you reflect on wherever it is you call home this holiday season, take the advice that Dorothy provides at the end of that poignant song, which still sits near the top of my internal playlist after nearly 40 years.

We must look inside our hearts to find a world full of love–like yours, like mine, like home.

Comments (16)

  1. I think we often forget or dismiss the sacrifices or veterans make to ensure our freedom and peace. We need to do more to show our appreciation. Thanks for this piece.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ms. Martin. I think you are right. One way we can all show our appreciation to the veterans in our lives is to interview them for the Veterans History Project, or if the veteran is no longer here to share his or her story, we can submit a collection of original photographs, letters, military documents or other materials on his or her behalf. Find out how at

  2. It’s great that you highlighted homesickness and how it affects veterans. We often times don’t think about how much they miss their families. We should all be so grateful for their sacrifice. I know after a long day at work nothing can warm your heart and soul like the thought of going home to a warm home, something a lot of people don’t have or just can’t do. So I am very thankful for home.

    • Me, too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. The old adage, “Home is where the heart lies” immediately came to mind when I read this article. I’m thankful, and appreciate the sacrifices of all of out veterans. I think many times others not living the life of a veteran can’t fully comprehend the trials and tribulations of just trying to make it home. Something so simple as “going home” is taken for granted by many, including myself, so this article tugged at my heartstrings to absorb that this isn’t a simple feat for many, but they still have to maintain and serve their country. I can not wholeheartedly say I could do the same, and for this I thank them all. May God Bless our veterans, and keep them and their loved ones safe.

    • Ms. Boone, thank you for your comment and for sharing your heartfelt gratitude and concern for our nation’s veterans. We all seem to have a new appreciation for “home.”

  4. Being a recent high school graduate (June 2014) and not having my dad at my graduation because he was serving our country, this article brought me to tears. Many people don’t fully understand how hard it is for our veterans and their family waiting on them. Thank you for this article, I feel like at least ONE person understands

    • Cidney, congratulations on your recent graduation. I know your dad would rather have been there cheering you on, but we are grateful for his service nonetheless. Please know that there are lots of us who understand, and that our thoughts are with you and all the families waiting for their service member to return safely from duty.

  5. This is such an important and timely topic. These men and women are serving our country in places of the world that many of us will never see. Even though the are surrounded by their fellow vets, I’m sure they are plagued with thoughts of loneliness, homesickness, and sadness. Thank you for shedding light and awareness on an important topic.

    • J., thanks for your comment. We are glad that this series has helped to provide a new perspective on the veteran experience.

  6. There’s nothing like home. Your article reminds me of just how grateful I am for the men and women (including the veterans in my family) that serve in the distant lands. They make the ultimate sacrifice so that I can enjoy life in America all the more. Our veterans truly give meaning to that popular cliché, home sweet home! It’s important to reach out to our veterans during the holidays and until they safely return to that place they call home. Great article!

    • Thank you, S. Maxine. Please consider interviewing the veterans in your family for inclusion in the Veterans History Project archive. Each veteran has a story to tell. Find out how at

  7. What a great piece! It makes you really appreciate how important home and family are. You bring a face and a names to people who. have put so much on the line for our country.

    Keep up the wonderful work!

    • Thank you, Regan. We are glad you enjoyed the “Home” series. Visit the “Folklife Today” blog periodically for timely articles and interesting facts from the staff of the American Folklife Center and the Veterans History Project. And of course, consider interviewing the veteran in your life. Find out how at

  8. WELL WRITTEN! Absolutely love this write up.

    • Thank you, J. I hope there’s a veteran in your life whose story you would like to contribute.

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