The following is a guest post by VHP Liaison Specialist Owen Rogers, and is the second in a three-part series.
Trying to make it…
Home. A permanent fixture in our lives, “home” has both place and meaning, and many veterans meticulously documented their journey home through photographs, manuscripts and correspondence. Numbering among the “transplant” community in Washington, D.C., I find this facet of military service particularly resonant. In contrast to a simple car ride or quick flight home, protracted tours of duty and the long wait for the war’s end curtailed countless family gatherings. Through the century-long perspective of the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP), veterans’ narratives link homesickness to the human experience of war.
Gleaned from veterans’ images and prose, the narratives collected here speak to the anxiety, apprehension and, at times, the tragedy of veterans’ homecoming.
In 1943, Samuel Lionel Boylston was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Force. Stationed in the South Pacific, far from his South Carolina homestead, he found that correspondence provided a creative outlet, as well as a link to stateside friends and family. By September 1945, peace was restored in both Europe and the Pacific; however, millions of deployed G.I.s awaited berthing assignments. In the queue of a competitive “points system,” Boylston writes:
Nagy will be leaving or begin his stateside journey about Sunday. I guess he will be a happy fellow. Duke and I will probably go next month or November at the latest. I hope there is plenty of transportation by that time.
By December 1945, Boylston landed in San Francisco. Fortunately, he had an early taste of home, courtesy of a dining car chef who also hailed from the Palmetto State. After nearly three years of Army rations and palm trees, steak and French fries signaled a return to family, friends and civilian life.
For Korean War veteran Jose Mares, however, a Thanksgiving meal signaled three years of captivity. His long journey home began on November 24, 1950, when a North Korean ambush killed soldiers seated at either side of him. After five days of combat, Mares was captured, tortured and nearly executed. In contrast to the frequent exchange among Boylston and his parents, Mares’ VHP collection includes a series of telegram updates from the Department of the Army. Then in August 1954, there was a telegram from Mares, himself!
Dearest parents, your prayers for me have been answered. Feeling better now. I’m free. Nothing wrong with me that getting home won’t cure. On way home by boat. God bless you all. Joe.
Despite his horrific experiences, Mares remained in the military until 1970, and retired as a Master Sergeant with more than 20 years of military service, as well as a family of his own.
Think about a time that you overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to make it home to family and friends. Share that memory in the comments section below.
Did images from this post resonate with you? Please post wherever you share compelling information–Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram or Pinterest–using the hashtag #VHPatHome.
Join us next week for the final installment of VHP’s “Making It Home” series. Go here to read part one, and share your story.
I am reminded as I read the ties that bind these men home after conflict, of the conflict which lies between people today returning from the service to find themselves so changed and home so alien from the lives they have lived for the sake of our safety, that there is no homecoming for them. I grieve for them and for us.
Lee, thank you for your sincere commentary. For this reason, the Library of Congress Veterans History Project collects, preserves and makes accessible the human experience of war, which includes “soldier’s heart,” “shell shock,” “battle fatigue” – and now – the PTSD that accompanies servicemen and servicewomen long after war’s end. Please look to the final post in the “Making It Home” series for stories of veterans’ homecoming, as well as the Experiencing War feature, “Disabled Veterans: The Unhealed Wounds (//www.loc.gov/vets/stories/ex-war-disabledvets.html).”
My grandfather served in WWII in England, and after V-E Day, he was sent to the Pacific and remained there after V-J Day. I’ve read many of his letters home to his family from England, and they are chatty and fairly upbeat. Later I saw the letters he wrote his sweetheart (later my grandmother) while he was waiting to come home from the Pacific and they have a different tone. The war was over, why wasn’t he home yet? I can’t imagine how hard it was to wait to go home, after all that time.
Thank you so much for sharing that memory with us. If you still have at least 10 of those original letters, please consider donating them to the Veterans History Project, so that your grandfather’s story will be preserved for future generations. If you have original photos of him during his service days or some of his military documents, you may donate them as well. Find out how at //www.loc.gov/vets. We would love to count your grandfather’s story among the more than 95,000 stories in the Veterans History Project archive so far.