As a Boy Scout, I looked forward to a week of camp each summer and have many fond memories of those days. Invariably, there were a few kids who were miserable because of homesickness. I never understood that. How could someone, who is surrounded by his scout troop buddies for just one week, be homesick? Were they joking or just wanting attention? They irritated me.
Fast forward several years. In the December 1969 military lottery draft, my number was 18. The Vietnam War was raging, and it was impossible to avoid the constant barrage of radio, TV, and newspaper coverage reminding us of the escalating number of casualties and the growing unpopularity of the war. The next few weeks were a blur for Jo Anne and me.
Weighing my options, I enlisted in the Kansas Army National Guard. Fifty years ago, this month, the day after our first wedding anniversary, I left for boot camp and advanced individual training at Fort Ord, California, knowing I wouldn’t be home until early August. Training went fairly well for the first few weeks, making new friends, having numerous new experiences, and looking forward to letters from home. Boot camp was not fun, but manageable.
Sometime in May, I unexpectedly hit an emotional wall, experiencing a severe case of homesickness that nearly immobilized me. All I could think about was how much I missed home, Jo Anne, our dog Mandy, my teaching job and the students I left behind at mid-year, and many friends. I could barely function some days, and the nights in the barracks were painfully long and lonely. It took me about two weeks to work myself out of this deep funk, learning that homesickness can be very real and certainly not a joke.
Those days of homesickness were really tough, but the experience made me a better person. I now have empathy for people who can barely cope because of separation from home and family.
When both our kids chose to attend universities far from home, I wondered if they might experience occasional homesickness. If that happened, I was confident I could help them deal with it. To my knowledge, neither of them experienced homesickness, and I’m grateful for that. I think Jo Anne and I missed them a whole lot more than they missed us!