I Stayed Home
By JoAnne Smith

NOTE: Below is a speech given by the wife of Roy Smith at the 8th Battalion 4th Artillery Reunion Banquet held in June 2002.

We married in June of 1965. My husband Roy was drafted in October of 1966. Those years were memorable for all of us. Roy became my world. He would call every morning and every night before I went to bed. And then in 1967, he went to Vietnam. I was up here at Fort Sill, left alone in a parking lot, while they took my husband Roy and his friend Dave, and put them on a bus. I didn’t see him for a year. I went home -- back to Mom and Daddy’s -- back to sleeping on a bed with my six-year old sister -- back to working in the drug store where I worked when I was 16 -- back to high school friends that were not married -- back to high school friends that were married. I had been nowhere. I was in a small town and there was nothing to do. I was not bored -- it was not that. I just didn’t fit in anymore. I didn’t fit anywhere. There were days I’d go to the post office and there was no mail. There were days when I’d go to the post office and there were five or six letters. Everyday I would write, but when you live in a small town where nothing really happens, what do you write everyday? And I swore I would never write another letter without anything to say, and I haven’t.

Little things stand out. One day I was looking at the window from the drug store, and two Army personnel were going down the steps of nearby building. I was convinced that they were coming to tell me something that I dreaded. I went into an absolute panic, and one of them comes over, slaps my face to get my attention, and said "Calm down, we’re just recruiting officers." But that’s the kind of pressure I lived under. I just needed to know how I fit. What I was supposed to do. I didn’t have any children to raise. I was nineteen years old. Life was on hold. I couldn’t buy anything. I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t do anything. I went to movies, and then all of a sudden, I would feel guilty. "He’s over there at war, and I am here sitting in a movie?" I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to go -- how to react to anything. I worked and came home every night, and I just sat there -- there was just really nothing that I could do. Of course, I had my friends. They were there to tell me how proud they were that my husband was serving, and how they’d pray for him. I also was approached by these little bald-headed pot-bellied men who would come over and say “Honey, we’ll take care of things and we’re real proud for you. And if you every get lonesome just let me know.”

I met Roy on R&R in Hawaii. I mean I was a world traveler. I had been to Louisiana, twenty miles from my home, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Houston. But I was from a really little town. I hopped in a plane to Los Angeles. And I thought on the way "My husband doesn’t have any papers that he’s going to be there." I mean I was just okay. I paid about $300 and I got one penny back. It was wonderful. I was looking so forward to all this fresh food. This wonderful Hawaiian food. Roy and Ronald, and Ronald’s wife, Vicki, we were all together. This wonderful Hawaiian food turned out to be hamburgers and french fries and ketchup. That’s what the guys wanted. I also remember when Roy was writing letters home to me saying "Everything’s fine, everything’s fine." So I thought, well, he’s doing okay. We are in Hawaii in April, and I learned that everything was not fine. They got to talking about these things that happened in Vietnam. Then I go back home and I was really in turmoil. Again I would see these recruiting officers go by -- I couldn’t go forward -- couldn’t go backward. I was just there.

Roy did come home. He called me the day and said that he was flying from Houston to Lufkin. With so little notice there was not enough time to get ready, to have my hair done, or anything like that. He just called and said "I’ll be at Lufkin in an hour." It took us an hour to get there from our little town. But I and his brother popped over there, and picked him up. What a wonderful reunion at the the airport. Some of you didn’t have that when you came home. Then we started home with my brother-in-law driving 60-65 miles an hour. It took about ten minutes, and all of a sudden Roy slams his hand on the dash, saying "Slow down, slow down." But the trucks, I mean ya’ll were used to the big trucks and driving 40 miles an hour on dirt roads.

Later when our children were 6 or 7 years old when we took them to Six Flags. We walked walk down near this canal, when the cannon fires, and I remember Roy hollering “In coming.” And I’m sitting there going "okay?"

Vietnam did change our lives. But I can tell you about four years ago me, Roy, his Vietnam buddies, and their wives met for a small reunion. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life in 30 years. It’s wonderful to see grown men cry. And the joy and love that they’ve had never stopped. One of the men that came has since died. He said "I always told my children that if I had no family, my family would be my Vietnam buddies."

I thank you for what you all did.