Coming home. Only someone who has served in the military really knows what that means.
Col. Richard Taylor has experienced coming home from both sides. During his 27 years in the Army, he returned twice from Vietnam. In recent years he welcomed home his son Scott and daughter Amy, who both served in Iraq.
In 1993 Taylor retired and came home for good - or so he thought. With a high-level job at Computer Sciences Corporation in Norcross, life was very comfortable for him and his wife Sandy.
Then on Sept. 11, 2001, Taylor reassessed what he was doing with his life. He explored other ways to use his talents and felt compelled to leave his cushy job in Norcross. He headed for Baghdad, where he established a military inspector general system within the Iraqi Joint Forces. Then last May, he found himself homeward bound once again.
His experiences with returning home and his conversations with other servicemen and women who have made this transition back into civilian life inspired him to write his latest book, "Homeward Bound: American Veterans Return from War" (Praeger Security International, $49.95). Taylor researched the social readjustment of returning veterans from the Revolutionary War through the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Using material from diaries, personal memoirs and personal interviews, Taylor begins each chapter with a battlefield vignette, followed by an explanation of the situation, then first-hand accounts of the reception and adjustments veterans faced upon returning to what they thought was home.
"No matter what war soldiers serve in, they have expectations of coming home to life as they left it. They tend to forget the bad things and remember only the good," Taylor said.
After their initial happiness wears off, even if they're not severely injured and loved ones are totally supportive, they must still deal with how life at home changed while they were away. And there are always memories of the war as well as comparisons between here and there, then and now. What we now call post-traumatic stress syndrome has always been part of what fighting soldiers have had to deal with.
"Especially during World War I, there were a lot of men who wouldn't talk about the war and lots of alcoholic fathers," Taylor said. "And after the Vietnam War, a lot of veterans didn't want to talk because the war was so unpopular."
One way of making the coming home experience more positive is for people back home to refrain from being negative about the war, Taylor said.
"If a soldier feels he's doing the right thing, his homecoming experience will be easier," he said.
"Homeward Bound: American Veterans Return from War" is available through Taylor's Web site, www.battlevet.com, as well as at Amazon.com and bookstores.
Taylor is also available to speak about the experience of coming home to any groups interested in learning about one more way they can support our troops. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at email@example.com.