Thursday afternoon, Whenuapai. Home. Normality. At last.

Shock.

Home is normality. The people around you have no idea, not the slightest idea of how you have lived this last year and I don't think that they cared (perhaps that comment is a little harsh) or wanted to know. If they did learn then somehow they may have got tainted or have shared a shameful guilt. It took many years to realise what a brutal shock had occurred.

Virtually within the space of hours we were plucked out of our war zone and catapulted back into a life where people lived a normal life unaffected by the activities of a war. These people were not involved in our war and did not have the faintest idea of how we had lived these last months and, furthermore did not seem to care. And they expected us to be as we were when we left, to act normally in their sense of the meaning.

But our sense of normality was now vastly different and many fatal strains were placed on relationships. You light a cigarette, smoke it, drop it and grind it out with your boot. So what's the fuss? Oh, carpet! Sorry, haven't seen that stuff for a while. Get him out of the reception lounge as quickly as possible before he does something else to embarrass his family.

Vietnam, and a soldier's life in it, perhaps did not differ a lot from previous wars. Like those countless soldiers before us we built up our mental defences by adopting a hard-case attitude and a macabre sense of humour. Many of the accounts of World War II and other wars make comments that indicate that the individuals participating in those wars had many exciting and dramatic times, although these times were generally confined to a few days and then there were lengthy periods of weeks or months on end when they were not involved in anything.

It is here I think that the difference becomes apparent. There were no periods of un-involvement for the front line soldier in Vietnam. The enemy was outside the perimeter and active all the time. Never a day passed when the guns did not fire, when mortars could not be heard and small arms fire occurred. The war was constantly present and one could not ever be unaware of it. This constant awareness resulted in stretched nerves - what was in later years called stress. On the other hand, we were luckier than many of our ancestors for we did not become involved in the massive clashes of a set piece battle that they did and thus did not suffer the brutal trauma that some of them did.

Reference: 

Extract from unpublished memoir of David Roberts (1937-2005)

Memory Photos: 
How to cite this page: 'Going home - memoir of David Roberts', URL: http://www.vietnamwar.govt.nz/memory/going-home-memoir-david-roberts, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 4-Sep-2013