The Long Way Home

The Long Way Home

This is a clipping from a ship’s newspaper (USS Von Steuben) that was dated June 23rd, 1919.

The clipping described some of the details of the AEF being shipped home.

Caption: Von Steuben in New York Harbor in 1919. Photographed by Enrique Muller. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 97668)

This year is also the 100 year anniversary of the American Legion founding and both events are tied together. Over a hundred years ago, the men of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) that had been sent to help put an end to the First World War, were trying to make their way home. One can only imagine their frustration at the slowness of the government to return them to their former lives.

Caption: Von Steuben’s officers pose on her forward superstructure, September 1919. Cmdr. Frederick J. Horne, her commanding officer, is seated in the front row, 8th from the left. Photographed by Hughes and Estabrook, New York City. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 42255)

 

The war had officially ended on November 11, 1918 but there was no real plan on how to bring back all of the troops and Marines that had been sent over in great waves. In fact, many unique navy vessels were modified to carry the returning troops as the public clamored to reunite with their loved ones.

These soldiers, marines and sailors were suddenly being thrust into a new role. They were now excess and that means they were officially “veterans”.

What is a veteran?

A Veteran is someone who at one point in their life wrote a blank check for our freedoms that was payable up to and including their life.

They are our sons and daughters, husbands and wives. Mothers and Fathers. Cousins. Neighbors. Often people we don’t even know. But when their country called, they heard that call and they left the comfort of their homes to stand in the ranks of those who would protect all that they held dear.

Some would hear the guns of combat in a place far from their families. Some would sail on great ships on or under an angry sea. Some climbed into aircraft never knowing if it would be a soft landing or a crash into an unforgiving earth.

All shared one thing. Sacrifice.

100 years ago today, ships were still bringing the troops home from the great battles of World War 1. Even though the war had officially ended on November 11, there was no plan for how to bring them home no less what to do with them once they returned. It took nearly nine months to return the soldiers, sailors and Marines home from Europe.

And what did they find? The country was not prepared for the men who were returning. The sick and disabled quickly found out that no efforts had been made to create hospitals or any way to accommodate them. A new term called “Shell Shocked” came to be known to people who had never heard a cannon roar. Many were placed in insane asylums, poor houses, or jails as they tried to fit back into the lives they once knew. Some who survived the battle died alone.

What many found was that a population that was somewhat eager for them to go and fight the battles was not so eager to fully support them once the crisis was over.

Our brave troops found the same welcome home that the British soldiers had found so many years ago once the guns were silent (Thank you Rudyard Kipling):

I WENT into a public ‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,

The publican ‘e up an’ sez, ” We serve no red-coats here.”

The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,

I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:

O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ” Tommy, go away ” ;

But it’s ” Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play

The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,

O it’s ” Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play.

 

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,

They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;

They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,

But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ” Tommy, wait outside “;

But it’s ” Special train for Atkins ” when the trooper’s on the tide

The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,

O it’s ” Special train for Atkins ” when the trooper’s on the tide.

 

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep

Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap.

An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit

Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.

Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul? “

But it’s ” Thin red line of ‘eroes ” when the drums begin to roll

The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,

O it’s ” Thin red line of ‘eroes, ” when the drums begin to roll.

 

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,

But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;

An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,

Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;

While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Tommy, fall be’ind,”

But it’s ” Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind

There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,

O it’s ” Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:

We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.

Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face

The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Chuck him out, the brute! “

But it’s ” Saviour of ‘is country ” when the guns begin to shoot;

An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;

An ‘Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool – you bet that Tommy sees!

Many wars would follow.

Too many. But brave men and women would step up and answer the call again. It is a testament to their bravery that they did in spite of the nation’s poor record in dealing with her veterans.

Even today, veterans still pay a price. Long term illnesses resulting from their service are still present. Ask any veteran and they will tell you about the after effects of these wars. Battle Fatigue. Agent Orange. Burn Pits. Night terrors. PTSD. Cancers that can’t be explained.

We owe them much. We must never forget their sacrifices. We must repay that debt. It is wonderful that we take a few moments every once in a while to say “Thank You” for their service. But words are not enough.

It is better that we remember to hold our politicians accountable to make sure that those who have born the burden of maintaining freedom have the care for their wounds both visible and invisible. They pay a price every day for their sacrifices. Let us help ease their burdens with our care and support. Let us be as bold in their support as they were bold in their service.

God Bless America and God Bless our Veterans.

Mister Mac

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