Rowdy Yates was a free spirited country boy from Nashville, TN. He was being drafted in 1968 and had the opportunity to join the Navy Construction Battalion, CB's, for a short time. The only requirement was boot camp and one year in Vietnam.
Rowdy staggered into Vietnam, Danang air base, in the early morning hours in the midst of a rocket attack. Welcome to your home for the next twelve months. Rowdy settled into the Bulk Fuel Division at the Danang air base to supply fuel to all military branches and I Corp. A drop kick for Rowdy. All he had to do was work, sleep, drink and be safe until that great flight home.
Rowdy could trade a water buffalo for a jeep. He was an expert in Navy "comchaw". That is a code work for steeling military material. The southern boy was a good carpenter and made many deals building for the Marines and finding his way off the compound to the "skivie" houses. Rowdy lost two pay grades during his foray into the Dogpatch area of Danang. Alas, Rowdy had no worries, he was being discharged to return to Nashville and a career in construction.
Now there are many stories about Rowdy, but this story is not about his tour of Vietnam. Only about his return home. June of 1970 Rowdy survived Vietnam including a silent trip to Cambodia. After dodging rocket for 12 months, Rowdy was finally boarding that great bird home.
Rowdy did not know better when told to pack all his gear except a couple changes of clothes and his dress uniform. Packing all his belongings into a large box to be shipped to his home address in Nashville. Then told to find a small suitcase to pack for the flight home. Still, who cared, Rowdy was going home. Picture Rowdy and 200 other soldiers and sailors waiting outside the airbase for the best flight of their life. Rowdy enjoyed his Kentucky whiskey but was ordered to pour his two bottles into the gutter. Prior to his flight he watched a river of booze disappear into the drains. Not a problem he would be home soon.
A long 21 hour total flight time to San Francisco was no problem, Rowdy was going home. The first tip things would be different was when the plane was taxied into a hanger at Travis Air Force Base. The Vietnam veterans were deplaned in the hangar out of sight of all others at the base. Rowdy learned this was due to protests at the base against the Vietnam war. Welcome Home Rowdy.
Rowdy and 3 other vets caught a cab to the International Airport for their flights home. Remember, Rowdy was wearing civilian clothes, carrying a small suitcase, not his sea bag. Who cares, Rowdy was going home. During this period the military were required to travel in dress uniforms in order to receive a discount on airfare. Rowdy ran through the large and foreign airport to catch his long awaited flight home. Sneaking into the men's restroom, Rowdy found a stall and changed into his dress uniform. Not a problem, Rowdy was going home.
This Vietnam vet ran to his flight, boarded and settled into a seat for the flight home. At this point it dawned on Rowdy that he had to sneak into his country, dress in a restroom and run to catch his flight home. Welcome Home Rowdy.
Seated next to Rowdy on his flight to Chicago was a well dressed man. Rowdy ordered a long awaited bourbon after 21 house of flight time, going home. The passenger asked Rowdy where was he going and Rowdy told the truth, he was going home from Vietnam. Fortunately, his fellow passenger appreciated his service and bought drinks to Chicago.
Welcome Home Rowdy.
I have attended the welcome home ceremony for my step son returning from Iraq. I have witnessed strangers thanking veterans in the Nashville Airport. Police escort of buses loaded with returning warriors. Those new events where the young son or daughter are surprised by their returning Mom or Dad. These are wonderful events. I can only hope a returning veteran never has to "sneak" into his country like my friend Rowdy.
Rowdy was not welcomed home. However, I learned recently there is a more lonely experience. Most of my readers, all 10, know of my experience on the Nina, the Columbus replica during five weeks in October and November. My crew was diverse in all walks of life and age. A total crew of eleven, including the Pinta, at least three of the crew had no place to be. Not quite homeless but much alone. These sailors ranged from age 21 to 45 years and from different areas of the U.S. No one called them from home, visited them on the ships or seemed to care where they traveled. While this sounds like an adventurous nomad life, it appeared to be the pit of loneliness. No one told them goodbye. Coming home alone without a welcome is difficult enough, but never told goodbye is alone. I hope no one reading this piece ever experiences either.