After the Hero's Welcome
By Dorothy H. McDaniel
(selections from book)
Long, skinny legs in baggy cotton trousers appeared in the
doorway of the aircraft. The man's left hand straightened his belt buckle, a gesture
I remembered from long ago.
"That's your dad!" I cried.
My tears hid his face. Tears held for six years kept me from
seeing his stooped shoulders and the haunted look in his eyes. But I knew that I
would know him.
The networks had promised to repeat the coverage the next day. It
was now three o'clock in the morning. Mike, Dave, and Leslie were asleep on the
floor in front of the TV. I stretched out on the sofa and pulled the blanket up,
closing my eyes tightly. But sleep wouldn't come. I wanted to see his face.
Finally, it was morning. The reruns began. This time I knew
exactly when to watch for him. Lieutenant Metzger again. Then the belt buckle.
I could see him clearly as he bounded down the ramp and grasped Admiral Gaylor's
big hand with both of his.
A wide grin broke his gaunt face.
I took a deep breath.
He's a whole man, I said to myself, profound relief
sweeping over me.
Later, on the telephone, he was incredulous about the welcome he and
the other returning POWs had received from the throng of people lining the runway at
"You haven't seen anything yet, Red. You're a celebrity!
Hundreds of thousands of people, maybe even millions of people, have worked to
bring you home. All of America is celebrating your freedom!" I told him.
"You look great, Red!" I added.
"I have some scars that don't show, Dorothy," he said slowly.
And he began to tell me about the beatings and the rope torture and the electric shock
The gnawing in my stomach returned.
"I'll see you in a few days," he said.
He came home to a hero's welcome. Through sheer tenacity, and the
grace of God, he was able to endure the torture and the isolation for six, long, hard
years - 1,220 days and nights of painful uncertainty.
His country decorated him with the Navy's highest award for bravery,
the Navy Cross. and he, in turn, continued to server the country he had come to love
He savored his freedom. At long last, he could sleep the
night through, no jangling keys to disturb his dreams. He could walk up to a
door, any door, turn the knob, and, miraculously, the door would open. He could
stand in the shower stall as long as he liked, the blessed hot streams of water balm to
his battered body.
He could load his three children, now almost grown, into the yellow
station wagon and take them fishing, or to church, or to see a baseball game, or anywhere
he liked. He could talk to them, and listen to them, and try to fill the gap carved
by seven years of his absence.
He could put his arms around me again, and brush away my tears with
gentle fingers, fingers now numb and stiff from the ropes drawn too tight and left too
long on his wrists.
It never occurred to him that Kelly and some of the other men who
had ejected from their crippled aircraft into the jungles of Southeast Asia might still be
in captivity. If he had ever really thought about it, he would have been certain
that his country would never knowingly leave a serviceman behind after a battle.
The first inkling that some of the missing men might still be alive
came during his last tour of duty in the Navy. As Director of Navy/Marine Corps
Liaison on Capitol Hill, he was privy to high-level Pentagon briefings on the fate of the
men still missing in Southeast Asia. It was in one such briefing that he saw a
photograph, taken over Laos by an orbiting intelligence-gathering satellite, of a
primitive jungle prison camp. Tall figures - Americans? - were clearly visible in an
inner compound of the prison. In another briefing, he learned that the Pentagon was
looking into reports from boat people fleeing Indochina that they had seen Americans in
captivity. The intelligence experts called the reports "live sightings."
He knew he had to start asking some hard questions of the very
people whose causes he supported. He knew he had to do everything he could to right
what he saw as a terrible wrong.
What he couldn't know was that this would be the toughest battle of his
life. He would go into battle against a new enemy, an enemy that had no face, an
enemy lurking behind closed doors and hiding in sealed filing cabinets. He would
fight an enemy who was supposed to be a friend, who used the coward's weapons of innuendo
and outright slander, aimed at destroying his reputation and raising questions about his