What’s your story of a soldier’s homecoming?

More than 1,200 members of the Minnesota National Guard’s 34th Infantry Division are back home after nearly a year in Iraq. Generations of soldiers and their families have their own stories of returning home from war. Today’s Question: What’s your story of a soldier’s homecoming?

  • Nancy Gertner

    I wasn’t part of the family yet in 1919 when this soldier came home from WWI, but here is the letter the family received before the soldier’s return home. The letter is from an actual family archive.

    Addressed to the father of the soldier, this letter from the U.S. Army:

    “Demobilization Headquarters

    Camp Pike, Arkansas

    My Dear Mr. Willey,

    In a few days your soldier will receive his Honorable Discharge and start for home.

    He is bringing back many fine qualities of body and mind which he has acquired or developed in the Military Service. The Army has done everything it could to make him strong, self-reliant, yet self-controlled. It returns him to you a better man.

    You have been an important member of that great Army of Encouragement and Enthusiasm which helped to make him and us all better soldiers. You can now be a great help in keeping alive the good qualities he is bringing back from the Army, in making him as good a citizen as he has been a soldier.

    His fare and necessary expenses to point of induction will be paid by the Government. He will receive all pay due him. He may, if he wishes, wear his uniform for three months from the date of his discharge. The Government will also allow him to keep up, for the benefit of his family, his insurance at the very low rate he is now paying.

    His return to civil life will bring new problems for you both to solve. The qualities he brings back will help you now as your Encouragement helped him while in the Army, and in your hands and his rests the future of our country.

    As his commanding officer, I am proud of him. He has done his duty well. I and his comrades will bid him goodbye with deep regret, and wish him every success after he returns home – that spot in every man’s heart no other place can fill.

    Reyburn Engles

    Major U. S. Infantry

    Discharge and Record Officer”

  • Megan Gilles

    My brother served in Iraq from 2004-2005 with the Minnesota National Guard. I had been blessed to be able to find a job in Minnesota and thus be closer to my family while he was away. One of my sisters was studying at St. Ben’s during my brother’s time in Iraq. We car pooled together back down to Marshall for the arrival of his unit. It was an absolutely AMAZING and EMOTIONAL experience. As we traveled down Highway 23, we had tuned in to the Marshall radio station. They had commentary about the group returning and were playing patriotic songs. There was a huge caravan of fire trucks, police cars all leading the buses of troops into Marshall. There was a GIGANTIC American flag strung between two fire trucks that was waving. Cars and people were everywhere welcoming the troops back into town. Families reunited with their soldier in an empty store. After lots of crying and hugging the town continued the celebration at the local high school where yellow hankies had been made saying WELCOME HOME HEROES. The gym was completely full! Students from many school districts had made posters welcoming the soldiers home and thanking them for their service. With my brother’s arrival home, there was definitely a huge weight lifted off of my entire family’s shoulders. Thank you to the city of Marshall for a job well done in thanking these soldiers and welcoming them home. I thank my brother Mark for his service to this country and all soldiers and their families for their sacrifices.

  • Joe Danko

    I enterd the USAF in 1960 right out of highschool. I had an interesting career in Spain, France, Germany, Duluth and Thailand. I married a Duluth girl in 1966 who waited for me to return from a year in Thailand to resume our marriage. I was disharged in 1967 after nearly 8 years of service. My wife had made it clear that our life together did not include any more military service. I walked right into civilian life and never looked back. I worked side by side with many veterans and never experienced any sort of dislocation or distress other than a lot of “war” stories. In the last few years before retirement I actually worked with three other people who had been to many of the same places where I served and another who had been a major in the South Vietnamese army. During the cold war era and into the SE Asia war multiple years of overseas service was quite normal. Many families were raised and schooled on military bases outside the U.S. Many G.I.’s were draftees, even Elvis. Offspring of prominent families normally served in the military. Serving, getting out and getting on with life was considered normal and nothing particularly special.

  • Dustin Oosten

    Leaving active duty in 1989, I found transition/adjustment into civilian life was more difficult than dealing with the combat. As an Infantry soldier, I was trained for combat and I did my job well. However, training for transition was lacking in 1989. I was rudderless for a couple years working part-time jobs and relied heavily on my family for support, which made me feel weak.

    I left the military a stronger and more resilient man. However, military mindset and culture is different from that of civilians. The military emphasizes leadership where one person speaks and everybody listens. The civilian mindset and culture emphasizes emotional intelligence (i.e., the ability, capacity, skill to identify, assess, and manage the emotions of one’s self, of others, and of groups). In short, the leap from an extremely hierarchal culture to a culture run by committee is unexpectedly difficult.

    My advice for those returning:

    -Ladies, you are warriors but you are not seeking the VA services you deserve…pleae seek it.

    -Rural veterans….rural individuals serve at higher rates then their proportion of the population

    20% of the nation is rural

    44% of military are from rural areas

    Rural veterans tend to seek and utilized VA services less than urban veterans…please seek it.

    -Your wounds are your greatest strengths

    They teach you about life

    They teach you who you are

    They teach you about your soul

    All that Buddha Zen stuff

    Remember, you know how to “Embrace the Suck” and keep your feet moving

    -Delink the memories from the emotions

    Use combat breathing techniques to lower heart rate/physiological arousal connected to the memory – you have control over breathing, then address the content of memories

    -Pain shared = pain divided

    Peer-to-peer, cognitive therapy

    -Shared joy = joy multiplied

    Celebrate joyful memories

    -Language…How questions vs. Why questions

    When thinking, we ask ourselves questions and then answer them. Why questions are past oriented and lead to the conclusion that something is unfair. When life is unfair we become depressed, angry or both. How questions are future oriented and more fun to focus on. For example, How do I want things to be; How do I want to feel etc….what you focus on becomes reality.

    Finally, find the purpose that fulfills the need for significance, connectedness, growth, and contribution – the military fulfilled those needs at a high intensity.