After undergoing 365 days of hell, coming home for me — as I’m sure for any combat vet — consists of multiple emotions.

Being able to deplane from that Freedom Bird erect — as opposed to lying horizontal in a coffin, as did many of our counterpart heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice — gives many a coming-home veteran many questions in our minds.

Why was I spared and they weren’t? Guilt sets in.

It feels so good to step upon U.S. soil, kneel and kiss the tarmac at the airport. It is a wonderful feeling of thanks to God, but when I think about that fallen comrade — who was given no option but to possibly taste foreign soil when being shot, spilling blood on foreign soil, lying face down on the floor of the jungle, kissing dirt as opposed to kissing a tarmac — shivers run down my spine.

Why was I spared and he not? He did not wish to die, even while I prayed to live and survive?

I stepped off that plane to breathe fresh U.S. air; he did not have that privilege.

Coming home can be a lasting phase of wonder and/or torment for years to come.

Ernest Garcia

U.S. Army door-gunner, Vietnam War

Rio Rancho