My Freedom Bird

Iíve read some books and heard guys tell about their freedom bird home from Vietnam.  Iíd like to tell you about mine. 

When most guys left Vietnam after they boarded their flight home there was silence until the aircraft wheels left the ground.  Then a spontaneous cheer filled the plane.

I missed that experience, mine was much different.  Iíve wanted to tell about this for over 30 years.  Iíve always thought there wasnít anybody to tell who would care, or understand.  Now, I think Iíve found some guys who can.  Here goes.

After 57 days in the 249th Medical Evacuation Hospital in Japan I was sad, melancholy, and very homesick.  I had a lot of things go wrong for me while I was hospitalized in Japan.  That was after the accident that took Roy Ransomís life and almost took mine.  An 8 inch howitzer flipped over pinning me beneath it.  That was May 6, 1970 somewhere between FSB Burkett and Loc Ninh.

Back to the story about my freedom bird -  My freedom bird left from Japan not Vietnam.  To this day, I have no idea how I got from Vietnam to Japan.  I know my trip home started in Vietnam, but my freedom bird started in Japan.  Thatís where and when I knew for sure that I was headed for home.

I have already told you that a lot of things went wrong for me in Japan.    I was pretty broken up, and as a result several things went wrong.  Thatís why I was there in the hospital for two months.  I was very sick during my stay.  However, the howitzer didnít fall on my head so I knew what was going on while I was there.

For a while I didnít know if I would make it home or not.  There were guys there who didnít.  All I could think about was going home.  I knew I wasnít going back to Vietnam, the doctors had told me that, but I was very sick and didnít know when I would go home.  Most guys had a date certain, I didnít.

Vietnam for me was a bad memory.  I was angry and cynical.  Hate is the strongest word I can think of.  I had had some bad luck, but then again I had had some very good luck to be alive.  I was going home.  I couldnít think of anything but going home.  I couldnít think about anything but going home because I found out I was a father while in the hospital. My daughter was born on May 6, 1970 the day of the accident. I needed to see my wife and new born daughter.

My trip home started one day when a doctor came up to me and asked me if I was ready to go home.  ďSoldier youíll have to go home S.I.  Is that O.K.?Ē  ďYes, what is S.I.?Ē, I asked  ďSeriously Ill, Youíll have to spend the night in dirty I.C.U. and tomorrow youíll fly home.Ē  ďO.K., what is dirty I.C.U.?Ē  ďItís just a holding ward for S.I. soldiers going home.Ē

That night, the night before my freedom bird, was one of the worst nights I spent in the hospital.  There were only two soldiers in the S.I. Ward that night, me and a very badly injured marine.  It was an awful night because I couldnít sleep.  The other soldier was very bad.  A large portion of his head was gone.  He was alive, but thatís all.  He was tied to the bed with sheets and every once in a while he would thrash about violently.  I was spooked.  I was alone with him.  I was in a dark room with death.  I couldnít sleep.

Finally morning came. My day, it was my day to go home.  My freedom bird was not a contracted commercial airliner.  My freedom bird was a C-141 medical transport.  It was beautiful.




No cheers when we lifted off.  It was a plane full of injured soldiers going home.  I was third from the bottom, second from the top, near the front of the aircraft.  I could see racks and racks of stretchers toward the back of the plane.  I canít tell you how many, but there were rows and rows four or racks high on both sides, from the front of the aircraft to the back.

It was a long, long, boring flight home.  Every once in a while a nurse would walk up and down the long aisle between the racks checking on the soldiers.  Thatís when it happened.  One stopped at my rack.  I remember the rank, but not the face.  She was a Lt. Colonel.  I guess I remember the rank because I didnít see many field grade officers in Vietnam.  It might have been because I was listed as S.I., I donít know.  She said, ďHow are you soldier?Ē  I donít remember what I said, fine I suppose, I just donít remember.  She said ďCould you use a back rub?Ē

Shock, disbelief, I donít know what.  A light colonel giving me a back rub!  I must have said yes, because I got one.  And it felt great!  I had been on my back for two months.  I was going home, and I had a Lt. Colonel giving me a back rub.  It felt good, it must have been her compassion, I donít know, but I was touched.  I was almost in shock.  I was in disbelief.  Yes, it really happened.

After a long flight, we finally landed.  We landed at Travis Air Force Base, California.  Yes, the same Travis AFB that I left for Vietnam 10 months earlier.  Travis is about 30 miles from the town I grew up in, in California.  I was almost home.

California, golden California.  Itís called golden California not because of the gold rush, but because of the wild wheat that turns a golden brown in the summer.  I hope I have described it well enough for you, because when they opened the back of the airplane to take us off,

the first thing I saw was this golden wild wheat.  It was waving and undulating in the wind, like a flag.  Itís vivid in my mind.  It still brings tears to my eyes, even now when I think about it.  I was home.  I was really home.

Reed McDonald    Then    and   Now



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