Returning War Vet

A Stock Character of many B-grade action movies, video games, and even a few dramas. A character returns home from the military. May be related to Stranger in a Familiar Land if they have trouble adjusting to normal life again.

The staple of this trope is that the returning soldier will inevitably be called upon to put his career skills to good use. He might find his hometown overrun with crime bosses, monsters, ghosts, or whatnot depending on the genre of the story. But he will always be the one to save the day, as he's the only one who has the training.

Darker stories may find him putting those skills to bad use, especially by turning to a life of crime, see From Camouflage To Criminal for more on that.

Compare Shell-Shocked Veteran.


Anime and Manga
  • Micky Simon of Area 88 is an American veteran whose flashbacks show that he had a great deal of trouble adjusting to civilian life after the Vietnam War. In particular, he jumps at the sound of aircraft overhead. Ultimately, he leaves to join a foreign legion air force in North Africa.

  • Captain America uses his battlefield command experience to lead teams of superheros against supervillains.
  • How Jesse Custer's father met Jesse's mother. He was returning from Vietnam, she was protesting the war by throwing junk at returning soldiers... It was love at first sight.

  • Since the Cool Old People who share his apartment building know PTSD when they see it, Bucky Barnes uses this as his cover story for his civilian identity in Infinite Coffee And Protection Detail. It's sort of true, leaving out the seventy years Barnes spent as a POW/brainwashed assassin between his military service and his return to civilian life. Barnes also fulfills the "called upon to use his military skills" portion of the trope when he scares away the Jerkass landlord's hired goons.

  • The classic example of this trope is The Best Years of Our Lives which involves three WW II veterans returning to their hometown where their adjustment to post-war life is met with varying levels of success. (One of the actors, Harold Russell, was an actual Navy vet who had lost both hands in combat.)
  • In Walking Tall (2004), Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson plays a returning soldier who must clean up his small town after drug dealers and criminals overrun it.
  • Tom Cruise plays a returning vet in Cocktail, though this is one of the rare examples where what he learned in the military proved of no use to him later on.
  • Rambo in First Blood would fit this, though it wasn't his home town; he was just passing through and trying to look up one of his war buddies.
  • Parodied in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, where Jack Spade was an Army vet...but his only experience was as an office clerk.
  • The most triumphant example, metaphorically speaking, would be Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. In terms of Vietnam causing his total alienation from normal society.
  • Michael Corleone in The Godfather comes back from World War II as a decorated Marine. Since he's the only "legit" member of the family, he is treated as an innocent newbie by the others rather than an experienced killer.
  • Tom Cruise is a paraplegic Vietnam veteran in Born on the Fourth of July.
  • In Streets of Fire, Tom Cody and McCoy have just (separately) returned from a war when they're recruited to save Ellen from a gang of thugs.
  • The hero in I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is a World War One vet trying to survive The Thirties. It often gets overshadowed by the film's penal reform themes but this movie also deals with how American war vets had been abandoned by the government.
  • Eddie Lomax in Desert Heat is Driven to Suicide after returning, which is what kicks off the plot of the film.
  • Ruckus the main character Kyle has returned from Vietnam. He embarrasses some local bullies and the town boss thinks he served in the same unit as his missing son. Setting off a running series of battles.
  • John Wayne plays a Confederate vet who returns to west Texas in 1868 in The Searchers.
  • Ford from Godzilla (2014).
  • Coming Home centers around Luke, who was rendered paraplegic in The Vietnam War. He winds up leading anti-war protests.
  • Subverted in Stop Loss which has a soldier in the Iraq war finishing his term - intending to return home as this. Then he finds out his contract has been extended thanks to the titular policy.

  • Played with in Beyond the Moons by David Cook. Teldin Moore is a returned war veteran, all right. But what his career taught him is that for some people war isn't about heroic charges but mostly about burying the corpses, skinning mules and so on. Though at least he traveled far (on his legs) and has rather broad experience — for his world, anyway. Not that he got to live in it much longer.
  • Dr. Watson of the Sherlock Holmes stories served as a British Army surgeon in Afghanistan. His need to find a place to live in London leads to him becoming room-mates and later co-workers with the Great Detective almost immediately upon his return to England.
  • The main character, William Mandella, is repeatedly this in The Forever War. Given that every time he returns he has been away for decades, even centuries, Earth-time, he really feels out of place there. It also becomes his main motivation for staying in the military, even though he hates it.
  • The four Hobbits in the chapter Scouring of the Shire.
  • The second arc of the first Cobra book by Timothy Zahn had the titular Cobras come home after the war and discover that there was no place for a Super Soldier in a civilian world. They eventually all emigrate with a colony fleet, as their implanted skills and equipment is far more useful and appreciated on barely settled frontier worlds.
  • The trope was popular one during the postwar period, with a number of noted writers taking it up, including James Jones (Some Came Running) and Gore Vidal (In a Yellow Wood).
  • In the Alatriste series, the eponymous Captain Alatriste spends much of his time in Madrid as a returned veteran during several lulls in The Eighty Years' War. He frequently goes From Camouflage To Criminal (minus the actual camouflage) as do many of his former compatriots, as Madrid at the time was choked with veterans for whom the idea of a pension would be a sick joke, and who were often screwed out of their earned pay.
  • I Know What You Did Last Summer (the original book, not the teen slasher film) has Julie's new flame Bud as a returning soldier from Vietnam. He's revealed to be the brother of the boy they killed, which he did not discover until he came home from his term.

Live-Action TV
  • Jake Green returns to Jericho after serving in the army. His training and skill with a gun are made into plot points throughout the series, and likely the reason why so many people look to him for safety.
  • Took up quite a few episodes in Band of Brothers.
  • In the backstory of Sons of Anarchy, the founding members of the club were returning Vietnam War vets. While it was not their original intention, their army training comes in useful when they become involved in gun running and engage in a bloody turf war with an rival gang.
  • In Boardwalk Empire, Jimmy Darmody and Richard Harrow return from World War One and end up in the bootlegging business. Al Capone claims to have been in France with the Lost Battalion as well.

  • Replica by Sonata Arctica is a story told by a man returning from war who just sits outside house of his old love unable to meet people he once knew.
  • "Johnny Come Lately" by Steve Earle is about a returning war vet. Although it initially seems to be about about a World War II vet, it is actually about a soldier coming home from Vietnam.

Tabletop Games
  • Many an Ex-Special Forces character from Feng Shui is one of these.
  • Pretty much every Player Character from The Hard Way as well.
  • A very common background in Eberron for Player Characters and Non Player Characters alike, as a major war just ended four years before the canon timeline picks up. It's an easy justification for where a starting character got their training, and especially for where a newly-made character with several levels under their belt got all their experience and gear. The warforged just miss being a whole race of these by not actually having had a life to return to from before they were manufactured to fight the war.

Video Games
  • In Silent Hill: Homecoming, Alex Shepherd comes back from overseas with the Special Forces only to find his father and brother are missing and he's being haunted by constructs from the titular town.
  • Cole Phelps in L.A. Noire is said to be a returning WWII vet who becomes a police officer in order to "right the wrongs committed during his time in the war."