“It sure is different than when we came home from Vietnam!” a gentleman said when the first group of Marines returning from Iraq arrived at Twentynine Palms Marine Base last Sunday. I accompanied my cousin to welcome her 24-year-old son home. She was surprised, and asked me: “Did you hear that? Why did he say that?”
My cousin did not live in this country during the Vietnam era. Neither did I, but I have read and seen documentaries on Vietnam veterans’ return home. I explained that the Vietnam veterans did not receive a warm welcome; some were spat on and called murderers upon their return. She said: “But why? It’s not that they went there of their own will; they were sent there.” I did not say it, but I thought that had the Iraqis fought as the Vietnamese did then, most probably the history would have repeated itself. “Apparently some Americans thought otherwise,” I said instead. My cousin’s eyes turned toward the crowd again, searching for a familiar face. She was ecstatic that her son was coming home; so were we.
Later, at the dinner table, the brave Marine told us how the Iraqis had invited the Marines into their homes, had sacrificed and cooked five cows for the Marines, had fed, offered tea and played soccer with them. My cousin asked her son, horrified, “You went into their homes and mingled with them? Weren’t you afraid they might harm you or sacrifice you for their beliefs?” The Marine looked at his mother and, with his usual gentle demeanor, said, “No, Mom, they were good people.” My cousin looked at her son, baffled.
“Usually, everyday common people are nice everywhere you go,” I said, “and we are not talking about born terrorists here, who are trained to kill. We are talking about regular, ordinary people, just like ourselves.” The Marine agreed with me. What surprised me the most, however, was that those Iraqis, with all the economic sanctions and hardships that they have gone through in the last decade, people who didn’t seem to have much to eat themselves, sacrificed and cooked five cows for a group of U.S. Marines!
Born and raised in the Christian faith in an Islamic country, I had been in similar situations many times growing up. Why was I surprised at the Iraqi commoners’ hospitality, I wondered as I drove home that night.