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The First Snow: 'Welcome Home'

A young soldier returning from Vietnam finds comfort in a wintry Michigan landscape.

I am a native Michigander and 63 years old, so I’ve seen a lot of first snows. Though I don’t remember my first snow as a child, I will always remember one as a young man.

In December 1967 I had just turned 22, left my home in Fruitport, Mich., and arrived in Quan Loi, Vietnam. I was a heavy equipment operator with the 1st Infantry Division. For the next 12 months all I experienced of the weather was heat, rain and dust. The dust in the dry season would get so thick on the dirt roads that vehicles would leave deep tracks similar to those left in snow. When I saw it, I thought of home and Michigan winters.

I flew out of Nam in one piece in December 1968. That was good, but I didn’t feel as much emotion as I had expected. We landed in California, and that was even better, but I still didn’t seem to be really affected like some of those with me. I suspected that time spent in a war zone had dulled my feelings and it would take some time to get back to who I had been.

I boarded another plane and continued my journey back to the Muskegon County Airport that I had flown out of 12 months earlier. We were above the clouds most of the way, and when we reached Lake Michigan, the fog was so thick we couldn’t see a thing as our plane descended to the airstrip. Suddenly, we dropped below the clouds, and there lay the airport—covered in a thick blanket of snow!

My first snow in a whole year.

That’s when I lost it. It took the sight of the snow-covered Michigan landscape to tell my heart, my soul, “You made it! Welcome home.”

The AARP Bulletin's "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online.  Bert L. Murphy Jr. is a Bulletin reader from Portage, Mich.

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