09/30/2014 01:08 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

In Limbo Between War and Peace: A Vietnam Veteran Comes Home

How a country treats it war veterans says a lot about its values. Not the values it purports to cherish, but those it actually holds. Whether one comes from a family where fathers, son, mothers and daughters have always served, or from one that hasn't seen a member in uniform for generations, most of us believe that when a nation sends its young people off to war, they deserve recognition and, more importantly, help--psychological, medical, financial, whatever it takes to make sure they're whole--when they come home.

In the spring of 1971, LIFE magazine published a remarkable story, "A Veteran Comes Home--to Limbo," written by Colin Leinster and featuring photographs by John Olson, who made some of the most indelible pictures from Vietnam. Focusing on one particular vet, 21-year-old Michael Ball from Midland, Mich., the article and photos captured the singular troubles faced by countless veterans, then and now, returning from war: the doubts; the troubled sleep; the anger; the longing for normalcy.

[See the entire story, and many pictures that never ran in LIFE, at]


Not published in LIFE. Sgt. Mike Ball, Vietnam, 1970.


Caption from LIFE. "Mike talks with Shirley Lyvere, whom he had once dated. His father invited her to the airport to help welcome Mike."

(Photos: John Olson--The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)