Rants & Essays

When They Come Home

By Marcus Pan

The hand grenade exploded just as I was throwing it during a firefight in Vietnam in 1967. For close to two years after that, I moved through seven military hospitals. Once, during my recovery, I left Valley Forge General Hospital and traveled to New York. I had come to terms with the constant pain. I was getting used to having only one arm and had learned to walk pretty well on my artificial leg. But nothing prepared me for the streets of Manhattan.

Naively, I wore my U.S. Army uniform. Everywhere I walked, I was met with cold stares and looks of undisguised loathing. The months passed, but the air of hostility did not lessen-and it hurt. Once a young coed sat me down with some of her fellow students and asked with an earnest smile, "Just how many babies DID you kill?" Still, I had it easy; other returning vets were cursed outright and spat upon.

None of us will ever forget those incidents, even though we knew they were perpetrated by a relative handful who seem to delight in reviling their country. What hurt more was the embarrassed silence of the majority, who stood by and let it happen, who turned away without acknowledging the sacrifices we had made in a long and terrible war.