‘Homeward Bound’ is a Fantastic Saying to Anyone Who Wanders

If I were down range in Afghanistan, I would be paying close attention to the November election because one of the presidential “tweets” last week promised to “bring all the troops home by Christmas.” And who wouldn’t want to be home at Christmas? Ironically, those on the ground over there might not even know of the possibility as the Department of Defense recently proposed defunding the publication of the famous “Stars and Stripes” military newspaper, which has provided daily news to those in harm’s way since World War I.

In my opinion, we should not have deployed to Afghanistan in the first place.

After being bogged down in that sandy quagmire for 19 years, the only results we have achieved are broken hearts and the loss of billions of dollars. The Afghans (their currency is called “Afghani”) have been fighting each other since Alexander the Great, and such internecine warfare is a way of life for them. We should have learned from the Russians who cut their losses, declared victory, and got out in 1989. They, in turn, could have learned from the British who were unable to pacify Afghanistan during the Great Game diplomacy of the late 19th century.

Although going home is always paramount on the minds of many soldiers, sailors, and Marines, the thought of it really rises to the top during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, no matter how far away one might be. “Happy Holidays” is a melancholy sentiment for personnel in the military. Big cities are the worst. I can remember walking through Times Square on a snowy Christmas Day, surrounded by people and feeling totally alone. One New Year’s Day, I had the whole Boston Common, a large park, to myself – not one person on a soapbox making an impromptu speech; not one person feeding the pigeons. Even the panhandlers had somewhere to go. It didn’t help that my favorite café, down the street from the old Charlestown Naval Yard, had just been outed and shut down as a collection point for donations to the outlawed Irish Republican Army.

On another Christmas Day, I remember hitching a ride on an ammunition ship going from Naval Weapons Station, Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines, which was infamous for letting people take potshots at monkeys who wandered out of the jungle onto the firing range (not me), to Da Nang. The ship’s name was USS Nitro (AE-23), which I always thought was an inauspicious name (as in nitroglycerin) for an ammunition ship. Luckily, I didn’t believe in self-fulfilling prophecy because in late December we were plowing through the South China Sea at 10 knots, loaded with bombs, ammunition, and napalm and only a few errant sparks away from blowing a hole in the ocean floor deeper than the Marianas Trench off Guam which, as you know, at about six miles, is the deepest point in the ocean. I didn’t care to be a part of that record-breaking event.

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