Rebecca West: Words & Music

The Journey Home

by Bob West

1954. Time had seemed to move very slowly all year. This was my first year of marriage. I was in South Korea and Sylvia was on the other side of the world in West Palm Beach, Florida. And now it was November and time seemed to move even slower. Sometimes it seemed to have stopped altogether.

I had a daughter now that I haven't seen. She was born last month. Also last month the organization and the people I worked with moved to a base in Japan. I was assigned to an organization somewhere for administrative purposes, but I didn't have a supervisor. It seemed I was on my own until further notice.

Before the redeployment, those of us who were eligible for promotion were scheduled to meet the promotion board once a month. We dressed in our class A uniforms and tried to anticipate appropriate answers to questions that might be asked. And waited around for our turn to meet the board. Which in my case never came. There was usually someone with longer time in grade for the alleged one or two promotions. Now there were no more promotion boards to meet. And no more opportunity to get promoted. Not until I was at my next base assignment anyway. At least that is what I thought. So it was a wonderful surprise when just before Christmas I received special orders dated December 15 in the mail that promoted me to Staff Sergeant.

The photo below shows Suzanne during her first Christmas season. Sylvia's mother is holding her. I would see this photo later after I returned to the states.

Mother Buteau and granddaughter Suzanne West

In January I received my new stateside assignment. I got packed, turned my bedding in, cleared the base, and got a ride on a cargo plane to Japan. After processing through Fuchu, I was waiting in Yokohama for my ship assignment, and dreading another 12 days on the Pacific Ocean, when I received wonderful news! I was one of a few selected to fly home!

I had no idea why that happened, but I was glad it happened. And just in case I didn't thank God before, I thank Him now!

We left the ice, snow, and freezing temperatures of Yokohama and a few hours later landed in Hawaii. I still remember how it felt when I got off the plane that night. There was a cool tropical breeze off the ocean like I had experienced so many times before in West Palm Beach. A reminder of home, but I was still on the other side of the world.

We were assigned to a transit barracks and told that our flight would resume in 18 hours. I tried to sleep, but could not. When morning came, I decided to ride the bus into Honolulu and look around. I did that and took the next bus back to the base. I couldn't get my mind on Honolulu, or Hawaii for that matter.

We continued our flight to California. After all this time I have forgotten the details, but I think we landed at Travis AFB in the San Francisco area. But it could have been some place else. I just remember that from wherever it was, I took a Greyhound bus to the place where I would get my civilian flight to West Palm Beach. When I arrived at the bus station, I learned that the bus driver had failed to put my duffle bag in the baggage compartment. My duffle bag was still laying on the ground next to where the bus had been. The dispatcher made a phone call, verified what happened and said that my duffle bag would be on the next bus, which he said would arrive in plenty of time since I had five hours to wait on my flight.

I went to a nearby YMCA and tried to get some rest, but I could not. My mind would not relax. I was excited about seeing Sylvia and Suzanne soon. I was concerned that my duffle bag would not arrive on time. I was concerned that I might fall asleep and miss my flight. Etc. Etc. Etc. I decided to go back to the bus station, so I would be there when the next bus arrived. My duffle bag was on it. I caught my flight to West Palm Beach. I'm sure I had to change planes along the way, but I don't remember.

I just remember getting out of the cab at 510 Plymouth Road in West Palm Beach, walking to the front door and ringing the door bell. I was weak and exhausted from the trip and lack of sleep. (I learned later that I had lost 15 pounds during the trip.)

Mother Buteau opened the door. Sylvia spotted me from across the room and ran into my arms. I still remember her hug as she welcomed her soldier boy home! And I remember seeing little Suzanne for the first time. She was sleeping in her crib. She was so tiny. And so beautiful. What a homecoming!

Back in Korea this month the Hobo Herald would be running the final episode of "Over and Back." I had finished the series and left it with the editors before I left Korea. Airman Smith was not as fortunate as I was. He returned to the states by boat. Here is that part of the story.

Over and Back cartoon

From Sylvia's journal:
"Suzanne was such a joy and I couldn't wait for Bob to come home
and we could start our marriage again. But somehow
things don't go as planned."

To be continued...

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