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Returning War Vet

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Things are looking up for old John.

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. They may find that peace is No Place for a Warrior.

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. Contrast Pre-War Civilian Career for what someone did before joining the military.


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    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.
  • John H. Watson of Moriarty the Patriot came home from the war in Afghanistan when he needs a roommate and Stamford introduces him to Sherlock as a potential one.
  • The titular character of Violet Evergarden came back from the war, where she served as a Child Soldier in the Leidenschaftlich Army; it made her initially Not Used to Freedom due to her knowing nothing but the military.

  • Captain America uses his battlefield command experience to lead teams of superheroes 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.
  • The Punisher: Frank Castle returned from the Vietnam War, only looking forward to enjoying the rest of his life raising his family...until said family was murdered during a mob shootout, driving Frank to start murdering criminals.
    • Later versions take a darker turn: In The Punisher MAX, Frank was unable to fully return to civilian life or even relate to his children, and the last words his wife heard from him before the mob shootout were "I want a divorce." Here Frank still goes to war on criminals with increased brutality, but the "Punisher" name is meant for himself, punishing himself for his failure by fighting a war he knows he'll never win.

  • 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.
  • After the Ankh-Morpork City Watch Air Arm is deployed to fight in an actual shooting war note , its commanding officer Olga Romanoff is concerned on the effects it has on her girls. She is particularly worried about whether they can settle down to being everyday Air Policewomen and working witches again, after letting their dark sides out to play, and seeing comrades killed in the fighting. She confides her concerns to Sam Vimes, who says "Get them out on the streets - well, over the streets, but you know what I mean - and don't give 'em a moment to brood. Work 'em hard, Olga." Olga discovers she has another problem - quite a few of her veteran pilots now want out. One considers she's too old for this and doesn't want to do it anymore; she and a friend, who considers everything is going to be boring after fighting a war, retire to one of the remotest possible places on the Disc to start a Witches' steading. Another returns home to Fourecks. A fourth is so crazy she has to be temporarily retired for the Discworld version of psychiatry. Olga discovers she has to pretty much start again with a handful of war veterans and a batch of new raw recruits. See The Price of Flight by A.A. Pessimal.

  • The classic example of this trope is The Best Years of Our Lives which involves three WWII 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 Army drill sergeant who had lost both hands in a training accident).
  • Brewster's Millions (1945): The film opens with Monty (who plans to marry My Girl Back Home) and his two best friends returning from the European theatre at the end of the Second World War. A man who served on the front with them also shows up trying to get a play financed, and Monty's girlfriend's houseman is recently back from the Pacific theatre, where he was wounded in action.
  • 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 hometown; 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 plays Real Life paraplegic Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic 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 I vet trying to survive The '30s. 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.
  • French movie Le Boucher is set in a remote village in the late 1960s. A war veteran son returns who is damaged by his experiences in Vietnam and Algeria, to take over the family firm - the village butchers. Soon after that, a young schoolteacher is found murdered. Carved up by large sharp knives.
  • Jim Scott (Jim Lundigan) and Roberta Stevens (Marilyn Monroe) are World War I vets in Love Nest.
  • Cool Hand Luke: Luke is a veteran who earned several medals during the war but left the military at the same rank he entered: buck private. This history implies both Luke's capacity for great things as well as his self-destructive stubbornness.
  • Detroit: The riots start as the result of police arriving at a welcome-home party for a black serviceman from the Vietnam War. Truth in television.
  • The Real Thing features an American serviceman returning to his wife and child at the end of his tour of duty. Unbeknownst to him, his child is a young transgender woman who transitioned while he was away. He doesn't recognize her at first, until he notices that she still has a teddy-bear from an old childhood photo of her pre-transition self. Despite her worries, he turns out to be very accepting and addresses her as "Allie", a very comforting thing to hear after a day of people still addressing by her pre-transition name.

  • 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 roommates and later co-workers with the Great Detective almost immediately upon his return to England.
  • Michael Corleone is introduced as this in The Godfather, having served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II, with the novel beginning as the war is ending.
  • 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 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.
  • An in-universe version in Wyrd Sisters, where Tomjon is a Master Actor who briefly gets into character as an old soldier in a play.
    He watched Tomjon hobble off the stage, and for a fleeting instant knew what it was to be a fat old man, pickled in wine, fighting old wars that no one cared about anymore, hanging grimly onto the precipice of late middle age for fear of dropping off into antiquity, but only with one hand, because with the other he was giving the finger to Death.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Jake Green returns to Jericho (2006) 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 a rival gang.
  • In Boardwalk Empire, Jimmy Darmody and Richard Harrow return from World War I and end up in the bootlegging business. It is invoked by Al Capone who claims to have been in France with the Lost Battalion (he wasn't).

  • Replica by Sonata Arctica is a story told by a man returning from war who just sits outside the 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 a World War II vet, it is actually about a soldier coming home from Vietnam.
  • In his verse in Insane Clown Posse's "Taste", Jumpsteady, who served in The Gulf War, raps that he'd be willing to "pay a little extra to the gallon" if it meant that the government would pay more attention to the violence of the inner cities instead of sending troops overseas.

    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."
  • Nate is a veteran of the Anchorage campaign in Fallout 4 and will be the player character if the player chooses to be male.
  • The protagonist of Ride to Hell: Retribution, Jake Conway, begins the game returning from The Vietnam War, where upon reuniting with his family ends up in a just-as-crazy biker gang war. His veteran status isn't a major element in the final game, but some Dummied Out files suggest that he was experimented on while in Vietnam, providing an explanation to an otherwise unaddressed beat early on where Jake survives and recovers from getting gunned down by the gang after they kill his brother.

    Western Animation 
  • Archer Dreamland: Archer, in a coma from the events of the previous season, imagines himself as a decorated World War 2 veteran-turned private eye.
  • Family Guy: In "Tiegs For Two", Glen Quagmire recalls meeting Cheryl Tiegs in a Flashback shortly after he got out of the Navy.


SSG Jim Scott

Army SSG Jim Scott returns home at the end of World War I.

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