Carry Me Home

by John M. Del Vecchio, author of The 13th Valley

Carry Me Home (Book Three of The Vietnam War Trilogy) brings the troops back to America — a nation confused and divided by the wars in Southeast Asia. In this poignant epic, Del Vecchio transports a group of soldiers to their final battlefield: the home front. High Meadow Farm, in the fertile hill country of central Pennsylvania, becomes their salvation. In Vietnam they had been brothers in arms. Now, in the face of personal tragedy and bureaucratic deception, they create an even deeper allegiance — one of the spirit and of the land. This is the remarkable story of the veterans’ struggle to find one another and themselves. In its scope, breadth, and brilliance, Carry Me Home is much more than a novel about Vietnam vets; it is a testament to history and hope, to hometowns and homecomings, to love and loss, and to faith and family. It is an inspiring and unforgettable novel about America itself.

Excerpted from Carry Me Home . . . .

July 1984

I’M GOING TO MAKE it. I’m going to make it, Man. I’m going to make it.

Wapinski used to say it. Say it like this. He’d be standing there, like this, leaning back on the sheet-­‐metal break…. Or maybe we’d be fishing the far end of the pond where the cliff comes right to the water and he’d be sitting on the edge or he’d have climbed halfway down and gotten onto that crag and he’d fish with one hand, hang on with the other…. Or he’d say it up here by the graves….

Damn. This is hard to talk about.

He’d say, “I don’t think I’d like the person I’d be if I hadn’t gone.” Then he’d say, “And if living with this pain, and damn it that’s what it is, is the price, then I’ll take it. I’ve seen the best. And the worst. But seeing the best, seeing it just once, that makes it worth it. That inspiration. That awareness. You become so damn aware it hurts, but you know what’s possible … and you know the price. You know it applies here, in the World, not just in Viet Nam. You know honesty and honor and vigilance … the costs, and what it costs when they’re forgotten … and that, that equates with hope.

“The best. The best here. The best in Nam. Decent. Honorable. Guts and balls and courage. Audacity. See it! That’s what High Meadow’s about.” Wap would go on like that, casual sometimes, ranting ferocious sometimes, go on for hours while we worked in the barn or while I’d be trying to tell him the advantages of Spredor 2° alfalfa over the old standards that don’t creep out. There’s a sugarbush over the west ridge there. His grandpa planted it back in the twenties. Can you imagine that spirit? It takes fifty years before a stand of sugar maples can rightly be called a sugarbush but his grandpa had that kind of optimism. Wap had it too. He had this idea that he could take the dregs, if they’d come to him, and turn em into philosophers or philanthropists, financiers or physicians. His words. That’s how strongly he believed in the basic strength and value of Everyman.

Where’s that spirit now? People think it’s crazy. Imagine planting something today that won’t pay off for fifty years? Build today for a world fifty years from now? For the year 2034? Crazy? Optimistic? I don’t know. It must have been in their blood because that’s what they founded here. That’s what they set in motion.

I imagine High Meadow was quiet like this when Wap came back. He told me about comin to this spot with Noah on his shoulders, comin up here to talk to his grandfather and tell him his plans. To see if he’d approve. He’d come up here a lot. From up here you can see most of the place. In the morning, with the sun at your back, the pond looks so peaceful. What hell it unleashed.

The barn down there is still intact. To me the big barn was the heart of the place. Machinery’s idle now, but it’s usable. The farmhouse is fine. Wap never finished remodeling but the place is livable, and except maybe for the roof over Noah and Paul’s room, all is tight. The path from the house to the barn is thick with grass and weeds.

I didn’t stop. Couldn’t. Came up the back trail, around the pond. Wap and I built that gate on the crest halfway up the drive from the road where the stream goes under in those culverts and where the school bus used to stop. We used hinges I forged in the shop that first winter when I didn’t feel like talkin to anybody and there wasn’t so much goin on. Used five-­‐eighth-­‐inch-­‐thick carriage bolts for the pins and bolted the gate to the posts instead of using screws. That gate won’t need maintenance for another decade. That’s the way he wanted us to build.

There’s gullies in the wheel paths on that last uphill section before the house and yard. Must have been heavy thunderstorms this spring … or last fall. You can’t build everything maintenance free.

The high meadows are fallow. The orchard, the vineyards, and the strawberry fields are untended. We were going to have our first real grape harvest this year. Wouldn’t have been much. The vines aren’t old enough yet. They’re nothing compared to a sugarbush for measuring optimism, but in a few years we’d have had the best vineyard in Pennsylvania. I say “we” but I should say “I.” Wap set the direction, but generally he stayed in the barn running the other businesses or studying in his grandpa’s office in the loft. He let me manage the farm.

It’s so clear this afternoon. I can see out over the house, out over the hills, way down the valley to the edge of town where the square steeple of St. Ignatius sticks up through the trees. Back this way, where the break in the treeline is, that’s the Old Mill, which closed about a hundred years ago. The next break down is the New Mill, which closed right after World War II. Then way down there, just before the creek, that’s the warehouse or Small Mill area. To the left is Old Town, and over a bit, that’s Lutzburgh where Bobby grew up.

Upriver, way to the left, across the new bridge, that’s New Town — all subdivisions.

And down there, below South Hill, is the new mall. Way east, east of Creek’s Bend, is where Kinnard/Chassion opened the new toilet paper and disposable diaper plant and where now most everyone works, just like in the old days when everyone worked at the old mills.

He carried me home. He never said that but it’s true. You know, not carried, but attracted … all of us. And we came and we took. Seems to have happened like that, like snapping your fingers. It’s nine years since we met. We were in separate isolations. I mean, that time in San Jose … when Da Nang was goin down the tubes. I mean I knew him from way back, from Mill Creek High, but he was a year before me. And then in Sonoma, and at St. Luke’s. But we didn’t really connect.

Seems like a million years ago, his coming home. I’d been back a year. I was still active duty and they sent me to Philly on burial detail, which is where I met Linda, and when I was discharged … I forget if Wap was back yet. I got out in April. Wapinski got out in June. Ty was still in. Yeah, I musta been in Boston Anyway, it’s been eight years since we began this venture. Seven years ago he sent out his letters.

High Meadow became our base camp, our sanctuary. We left windows open and unshaded at night because High Meadow was secure. Secure? What thoughts! Why do the voices still cry?

John Del Vecchio is the author of four books including The 13th Valley, For the Sake of All Living Things, and Carry Me Home which make up The Vietnam War Trilogy specially priced for a limited time: $3.99 for all three books! He graduated from Lafayette College in 1969, was drafted and sent to Vietnam in 1970 where he served as a Combat Correspondent in the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile). In 1971 he was awarded a Bronze Star for Heroism in Ground Combat.