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Making It Home: Welcome Home

The following is a guest post by VHP Liaison Specialist Andrew Huber, and is the last in a three-part series.

Where thou art, that is…

Home. For many people, the most treasured part of the holidays is traveling back to their hometowns to see their families and everything else that makes a place feel like home. When veterans come home it is no different, whether they volunteered to serve or were called upon by their country. Not everyone is able to make it home for the holidays, but our servicemen and women are particularly adept at making wherever they are feel more like home.

Phillips with Christmas tree

Nicholas Phillips with Christmas tree, Korean War. Nicholas Phillips Collection, AFC 2001/001/00653.

Today, technology allows servicemen and women to connect with their families from across the globe and even watch their children tear into Christmas presents via Skype or FaceTime, but in 1952, PFC Nicholas Phillips and the 7th Marine Regiment in Korea had only each other to rely on to turn their small encampment into home. Phillips and his fellow Marines searched the dusty Korean scrubland and brought back several “anemic” Christmas trees, which they festively adorned with tinsel and cans of Schlitz beer.

Phillips with beer can Christmas tree

Nicholas Phillips with beer can Christmas tree, Korean War. Nicholas Phillips Collection, AFC 2001/001/00653.

William Bean was another veteran who didn’t get to go home for Christmas. While he was serving as a military policeman with the 59th Artillery during World War I, he sent several Christmas cards back home, including the one below. In a letter to his mother, he tells her of his plans to celebrate Christmas abroad by cooking “a great big beef pudding” with his friends.

 

William Bean holiday card

A Christmas card sent home from France in WWI.
William Bean Collection, AFC 2001/001/24749.

Welcomes for returning veterans have been as varied and unique as the people who served–from jubilant parades to small reunions with a spouse or parent, and even animosity or protests–but one thing that has remained constant is the joy and relief of returning to see family and friends.

For most returning veterans, there are no parades or ceremonies, but I imagine that a few family members and close friends at the airport can feel like the best welcoming committee imaginable after months or years away from home. There is no doubt that Michael John Prendergast felt that way after returning from Vietnam to be reunited with his wife and son.

Prendergast with wife and son

Michael John Prendergast reunites with his wife and son after his tour in Vietnam. Michael-John Prendergast Collection, AFC 2001/001/47955.

Often, the most intimate reunions are the most profound. While everyone can identify with the appeal of a ticker-tape parade of returning heroes through the streets of the city, ask a veteran and chances are he or she will say that just being able to see loved ones again is all that is needed.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that all veterans will turn down a big celebration, as Louis Zoghby explained during his Veterans History Project (VHP) interview. Zoghby had fond memories of returning from Europe in 1945, after fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, but it wasn’t just Zoghby’s family welcoming him home, it was the entire city of New York! PFC Zoghby recalled participating in a victory parade shortly after the war ended.

When the parade was over, we all came back into the city and that night was, we were the, we got told, we were heroes, you know, of the Second World War. And nobody, you didn’t have to spend a dime; everybody…all the civilians were taxied. They didn’t charge you. You know, wherever you went, you didn’t have to pay for anything.

Sadly, not all veterans received such a warm welcome, or any welcome at all. When SPC Gary Villereal returned from Vietnam, the cold realities of an unpopular war were made evident early on.

I remember being on an airplane and a stewardess saying ‘oh are you going home from college?’ and I go ‘no I’m just getting back from Vietnam,’ and she just left, she didn’t even talk to me and she never came around again. And nobody was there at the airport to meet me. My folks either got the airplane wrong or I don’t know. So I started leaving the airport to walk home from Detroit to Pontiac, which was probably 60 miles.

Flight terminal

Flight terminal entrance for veterans heading home from Vietnam. Gary Villereal Collection, AFC 2001/001/08428.

Whether you’re a veteran or you are welcoming a family member who served into your home this holiday season, take the time to reflect upon what makes your home special, whether it is the people there you love or the places you grew up around, and especially reflect upon the courage and sacrifices that our veterans have made to keep those people and places safe.

Most people have fond memories of either being welcomed home or welcoming someone else home. Join the conversation and post your own fond memories 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.

The Veterans History Project collects stories of homecoming and every other aspect of our veterans’ memories. Visit the VHP website, www.loc.gov/vets, to access other stories from the archives and to find out how to participate.

Happy holidays from all of us at the Veterans History Project – and welcome home!

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