|Bob Woods: What Happens After Johnny Comes Marching Home? (A Story No Other Soap Star Ever Told, Or Could Have Told Before)|
September 1, 1981: The scene: Bob Woods's dressing room off the set of ABC's ONE LIFE TO LIVE. Just a few moments before, Bob had gone through an emotional, dramatic confrontation with his on-camera parent, Asa Buchanan (played by Phil Carey). Bo Buchanan had stood up, once again, to the demands of his predictably foreboding and forbidding father. The act of Bo's defiance was the pivot on which the tightly-written, tension-filled scene turned. When the camera's red light winked off, both men clapped each other on the back in that ages-old sign of mutual masculine affection that must have started with our ancestral cavemen at the end of a successful hunt.
Now, it was Bob's lunch break and a chance for us to talk. Of course, the scene that Bob had just done was part of the conversation. We chatted about the fact that on ONE LIFE TO LIVE, the viewer is often treated to some pretty graphic dramatic renditions of how men react to, and with each other as they face situations, which are unique male. Bob agreed that for an actor, "it's really a pleasure to work on a show which doesn't forget that men exist."
Just The Facts
Other Acting Jobs: Played Lieutenant Commander Eugene Lindsey in the 1988 TV mini-series War and Remembrance.
Bob began unwrapping a foil-covered sandwich. Then, with only half layers removed, he put the sandwich back down on the table near his chair. He leaned forward, directing his gaze right at the tape recorder between us. His eyes focused on it as if he were trying to assess the surest, shortest line of communication between the machine and what he was going to say next. A boyishly bashful smile lit up his face. He leaned back in his chair, tucking his legs into what might be describe as a quasi-cross-legged, and potentially "Lotus" position that should only be attempted by those whose ligaments won't need the benefits of liniment therapy after they try to straighten up.
"That word -- forgetting -- made me remember," Bob said. "Well, actually, I've been remembering for a long time. But last March, on my birthday, I got to thinking about where I was exactly ten years before. I was in Australia in March 1971, on leave. I was still in the army; still in the Green Berets, and this country was still involved in the Viet Nam War. Like a lot of other men who were in Viet Nam with me, we often thought about what would happen when we got home. That is, if we were lucky enough to survive and get home.
"Well," he continued, "as you can see, I was one of those lucky ones. I've been grateful. But I don't take my luck for granted. And I don't forget those who didn't make it home, or those who didn't make it home in quite the same condition I did. I'm lucky," he repeated, "and I know it."
Just a few months ago, the 52 former hostages returned from Iran. People liked parade routes for mile just to get a glimpse of those brave Americans. Politicians gave away many "keys to the city." We wondered how Bob and other Viet Nam veterans felt when they watched this massive outpouring of affection between the Americans who waited at home and the Americans who came home.
"...the veteran of Viet Nam knows firsthand how important it is to be welcomed home and made to feel wanted."
"Many of us," Bob noted, "felt more aware at that time than almost any other time, exactly how we had been treated ten years ago and how many of us are still being treated now. And some veterans spoke up about it. But first, it's important to emphasize here that all of us were happy about the way the country turned out to welcome the former hostages home. Those people deserved every one of the honors received. If I had my way, and I know a lot of the other veterans feel the same about it, those former hostages would have gotten even more parades and parties. After all," he continued, "the veteran of Viet Nam knows firsthand how important it is to be welcomed home and made to feel wanted. We didn't know how important it is, because we didn't get it! And because we didn't get it, we know -- firsthand -- how difficult it was to readjust to life at home.
"You see," Bob Woods said, "things don't stay the same. When you're away, time freezes only in your imagination. No one and nothing back home remains quite the way they were when you left. You only think you're going back to the way things were. But when you do get home, you're in for the inevitable surprise. For some, it's a disappointment. But for everyone, it's different. Well," he said with a smile, "the fact is that not only are they changed, but you are, too. Only you don't realize how much you've changed," he added, his smile gone now, "until you try to fit back in and discover that you're really an 'outsider' now.
"That's why parades are important. They're like a cushion that helps you make the re-entry a less difficult one. But many of us not only didn't have parades when we came back, many of us practically had to 'sneak' into our own country when the war was over. Why? Because the country was now ashamed of the war, and because the country couldn't face up to admitting that it was ashamed. So, of course, it handled that shame by ignoring the men it had sent to fight that war.
"It's worse than forgetting," he said in a voice that was suddenly louder and stronger and angrier. "Do you know what it really is? It's pretense. It's pretending the war didn't happen; that we didn't lose it and that we didn't fight it and that it was never part of our history. The only way to make sure that the pretense works, of course, is to pretend there are no veterans of the war who could possibly remind us about it. Already I'm aware of how quickly the words -- Viet Nam -- have faded from our consciousness. Kids who are now adolescents will tell me they know practically nothing about it, although many of us were only about their age when we went in. Those same kids know more about World War II and Korea than they do about Viet Nam, which took place in their own lifetimes.
"I'm lucky. I came back a different man..."
"Maybe," Bob continued," if the country had had the courage it likes to believe its soldiers have, there would be fewer problems among many vets of Viet Nam today. A lot of them can't get the same help veterans of other wards could. Sure, maybe the same facilities are there. But you know something?" he asked, "if the country is ashamed of you, how are you going to be able to ask for help when you need it? Shame," he added, "is catching."
Yet, Bob appeared to have come through his re-entry successfully!? "As I said," he nodded, "I'm lucky. I came back a different man, but my wife, Loyita [Loyita Chapel, ex-Judy, YOUNG AND RESTLESS) helped me. So did my family. As did my friends. Still, it can be a matter of luck in spite of the help. Loyita told me I had changed, and that I was different. We'd known each other since we were kids. When I came back from Viet Nam, I thought she'd changed also. But not in the same way I had. I see that now. Her change was part of a natural, normal growth and, I guess, a maturity that people normally go through. In a war situation, however, you mature at a different rate and, maybe, in a different direction.
© Soap Opera Digest,
Photo used with permission from ABC MediaNet