Animal House
The Last Child
The Football Hero
Kevin's "Fan" Mail
Dolly Dibly and Me
The Abominable Miss Sludge
Mud Pies for Sale
Accident Prone Momma
Ash Wednesday
A Love Story
The Dentist
Welcome Home Wayne
The Bread Truck
The Submarine
The Spelling Bee



























This story juxtaposes my brother Wayne's combat experience in Viet Nam in 1967 with my own year of peacetime duty in South Korea in 1978.   In 1967, when Wayne was in the Marine Corps in Viet Nam I was eight years old.  Sunday's that year often found my mother,   my brothers, my sisters and me in church praying for him.  Eleven years later, I was an Army Infantryman in South Korea.

The story opens in Paulsboro, New Jersey with Wayne's homecoming in 1967.

                                                                   Kevin Michael Kopko




Welcome Home Wayne


   "The prayer of a righteous man availeth much"

                                        James 5:16 (The Holy Bible KJV)  


The children rode their bicycles in a circle in the street in front of the tiny house on Billings Avenue. 

“Welcome home Wayne!  Welcome home Wayne!” they chanted. 

A good size crowd of family, neighbors and well-wishers milled about on the sidewalk and curb.  Several more were inside the house. 

In a few minutes a car pulled up to the curb, and a 20-year-old Marine, in full dress uniform, stepped out of the vehicle to cheers and applause.  People from the crowd came forward to embrace him or shake his hand.  He was led by family to the front porch, over which a huge homemade banner was hung.  The banner said WELCOME HOME WAYNE in huge, orange block letters.  

As he climbed the porch steps and ducked into the front door, he was passing from one world to another.  He had just completed a 13-month combat tour in the jungle hell of Viet Nam.  And now he was coming home.

. . . . .

Viet Nam 1967

 The platoon had been pinned down for days, surrounded by North Vietnamese regulars.  There was no water, and, most likely, none coming.  The daytime temperature was a brain-baking 120 degrees, with almost 100% humidity.  Finally, in a frenzy of thirst, the 19-year-old Marine, now several months in combat, began to lick the dew from the leaves of the jungle bush. 

. . . . .

 Back home in Paulsboro, New Jersey, on a gray Sunday morning, a worried mother bundled her five small children and trudged to the little Wesleyan church less then a block down the street.  Between hymns, she stood nervously, and in a small voice made dear by its humility, she asked the congregation to please pray for her son, Wayne, who was a Marine in Viet Nam. 

. . . . .


South Korea  1978

 Private Kopko shivered against the cold, and thought of the line from the famous Jack London story, TO BUILD A FIRE.  Cold, cold, exceedingly cold, and cold.

“I’m probably the only grunt who’s read that,” he thought to himself somewhat conceitedly.  In Korea only a month, he already hated it with a passion. Korea, the Army….he just about hated everything.

He lit another Kool and sucked the smoke deep into his lungs. How did he get here? he wondered.   

This guard duty was murder.

                                                                                                                     . . . . .

Viet Nam  1967

 The young Marine had seen most of his squad killed or wounded in action. He wondered when it would be his turn.  Indeed, he would wind up being the only Marine from his original squad to complete the entire 13-month combat tour.  Everyone else was either sent home wounded or killed.  (Most military units did a 12-month combat tour in Viet Nam.  The Marine Corps did 13-month tours.  And it was (and still is) their tradition to never leave behind any Marine dead in a combat zone, even if it cost more casualties to get them all out).  

The explosion rocked the truck suddenly, and he was thrown from the back of it…. 

. . . . .

Paulsboro, New Jersey  1967

 The worried mother began to make the trek down to the corner church with her children every Sunday morning now.  The children would attend Sunday school.  And every Sunday she would stand up and ask the congregation to pray for her son Wayne, who was a Marine in Viet Nam.

                                                                                                                     . . . . .

Private Kopko knew he had been out on guard duty too long.  The afternoon shadows grew longer.  He cursed the platoon Sgt. who had obviously forgotten him.  Now what? For sure, he did not want to be caught out here after sundown in the dead of a Korean winter.  He would have to walk back to where his platoon had been camped, at least half a mile.  He chain-smoked his pack of Kools along the way, cursing bitterly.  He wished he hadn’t cheated on the compass course, copying from his buddy Cronkhite’s paper. Knowing how to use that compass might come in handy soon.  Same with going on sick call the day of the M-60 machine gun training.  He had hoped to convince the doctor he had a hernia so he could get out of the Army, but it was no dice. 

So he had never learned how to break down and clean the machine gun, then reassemble it.  Sure enough, that was the weapon he got stuck with in Korea. He knew the odds of ever having to use it for real were remote. But still…..  He began to feel the same fearful sensation he had felt when he was four and his parents and family had walked away, leaving him alone and lost at the birdhouse at the zoo. 

. . . . .

  The young Marine wasn’t seriously injured being thrown from the truck.  He had broken his wrist and his jaw, but he wouldn’t be going home. Not yet.  His letters home to his older brother got bleaker and bleaker, as he just knew there was no way he was going to survive this year. There was just no way.  He had been through some horrific battles….. Con Thien…  The Rock Pile . . .roving ambushes… The Meat Grinder….  And the end was not in sight. 

Some guys had thrown away their yellow fever pills so they would contract malaria, an instant ticket stateside.  He fought on….. 

. . . . .

 Back home in Paulsboro, his worried mother attended the little Wesleyan church on the corner faithfully each Sunday morning.  Before this, the closest thing to a Bible she read was psychic Jean Dixon’s autobiography.  Jean Dixon couldn’t help her now….. 



 Private Kopko finally made it to where his platoon had last been.  They were gone. He spouted obscenities aloud and lit yet another Kool.  These things were turning his lungs to glass, and his morning coughing fits were getting worse.  He was 18, but felt like 40. The weight of the whole world was on his shoulders, the whole world, and that stinking backpack.  He hated carrying it.  He hated everything. 

. . . . .

  The year dragged on for the young Marine, and finally, after enough horror for a dozen lifetimes, his combat tour was ending.  He would be going home.  He was warned by his grand-pop Rudy (a veteran of both World Wars) to never worry his mother in his letters home.  He did not.

                                                                                                                     . . . . .

  Private Kopko shivered uncontrollably as he lay on the bare freezing ground and tried to sleep. His teeth chattered like one of those plastic wind-up sets.  At least he was in a tent, but it was full of holes, and the useless stove stood unlit and cold in the middle of the tent, broken.  His sleeping bag was locked in a vehicle nearly a quarter mile away, and uphill.  Forget it.  He would sleep right here on the ground, not taking anything off. 

He had finally been reunited with his platoon after stumbling onto another Company’s area of operations.  He had that nitwit of a platoon Sgt. to thank for this. First forgetting their tent and stove and C-rations, so everything the platoon had was cast-offs from other units….  Then leaving him on guard duty and pulling out of the area without taking a head-count. 

Korea.  The Army.  “Second Division—Second to none!”  How he hated it all.  He would tell his mother in his next letter home.

His older brother had admonished him about the graphic language and use of four-letter words in his letters home to his mother.  But Lenny Bruce, his favorite comedian, said that there were really no such things as dirty words.  And besides, his older brother wasn’t here in the armpit of the world freezing to death.  He wished he were at home drinking his morning cup of tea. 

His mother would hand him the stack of letters he sent her that year in Korea.  Most of them were unopened and unread. The profanity-laced whining in them had gotten to be more than she cared to read.  She still wrote to him faithfully once a week, but stopped reading his replies. The letters were in a neat bundle with a rubber band around them.

He felt a little ashamed when she handed them to him.  He had slipped in the car on the way home from the airport and used profanity.  His parents just stared straight ahead at the road and said nothing.  He was 19 years old.  And home from a year in Korea. 

. . . . .

Paulsboro, New Jersey  1967

 The relieved mother told the congregation that her son Wayne was coming home and she thanked them for their prayers.  They all thanked Jesus for the miracle.  Her son had beaten overwhelming odds to be coming home alive, with no injuries.  He was 20 years old. And home from the war in Viet Nam. 

The mother and small children stopped going to church once Wayne was safely home.

One of the children, a second-grader, would hide in the back of Miller’s store behind the Drake's cupcakes rack every time he saw his Sunday school teacher come in.

He did this for about three years, until it dawned on him that after this much time, she wouldn't still be his Sunday school teacher anymore, anyway.  He felt relieved.

. . . . .

 There was a big party for Wayne in the little house on Billings Avenue.  In a crowded kitchen with lots of food and drink and good company, he showed slides he had taken in ‘Nam.  His two little brothers, Kevin and Kirk, ages seven and five, were supposed to sing a song they had rehearsed.  But Kevin chickened out, and so Kirk sang it solo.  It was from a MAD magazine parody sung to the tune of FROM THE HALLS OF MONTEZUMA:


From the ants in our petunia bed

To the crab-grass on our lawn

We will fight them off with chemicals

‘Til the bugs and weeds are gone

We’ll use quarts and quarts of poison spray

And we won’t stop ‘til we’re through

All the bugs and weeds are dying now

But the plants and trees are too


Wayne laughed as Kirk sang the little song.      It was good to be home.








                                                                                     MILITARY HEROES OF THE FAMILY

(THOSE WHO WORE OUR NATION’S UNIFORM-this is a partial listing and the author would appreciate feedback on others in our family who served.  I apologize in advance for any omissions.  They were not intentional)


Chinese Boxer War                  Winslow Mattson – Marine Corps

Spanish American War             Winslow Mattson – Marine Corps 

WORLD WAR I                          Rudolph Mattson – Marine Corps  

WORLD WAR II                    Rudolph Mattson – Navy SeaBees

                                                Edgar Mattson     -  Navy Air Corps

                                                            Winslow Mattson -  Navy

                                                            Joseph Michaelchuck – Army (Big Red One)

                                                            Berton Faulkner            -  Army (78th Div)

                                                            George J. Kopko         -  Army

                                                            Edward Kopko

                                                            Larry Smith                  -  Navy

                                                            Robert Campbell

                                                            Lodgie Michaelchuck

                                                            Adam Michaelchuck     -Marine Corps


KOREAN WAR                      Winslow Mattson         -  Navy 

VIET NAM                             Wayne Lee Michaelchuck – Marine Corps 


ALSO Served:                       Ken Michaelchuck        -- Army

                                                            Larry W. Smith             -- Air Force

                                                            Matt Smith                   -- Marine Corps

                                                            Kevin Kopko               -- Army

                                                            James Kopko             -- Air Force 

                                                            David Hopkins            -- Army




The author acknowledges the Mad Magazine Song Parody  - Copyright EC Publications


                                                            All material © 2004 by Kevin Kopko










































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This page was last edited on 03/3/2007