November 04, 2006
They were soldiers
Originally published March 10, 2002
Vietnam was the war of my generation, and I never fought in it. I entered college in 1970 and earned a nice 2-S draft deferment, which kept me safely out of harm's way until the "rich boy goes to college, poor boy goes to war" rant convinced congress to screw EVERYBODY equally and eliminate the 2-S draft classification. I remember well the day I came home and found the change to 1-A status in my mailbox. I was not happy to see it. For anyone drafted at the time, basic training and a subsequent tour of scenic oriental rice paddies were a given.
The military recruitment offices were located in the basement of the Post Office in downtown Savannah. I went there the next day, determined to volunteer, so that I might have some choice about my fate, instead of being snatched by the nape of the neck and cast wherever the long arm of Uncle Sam chose. I came away with an armload of brochures, pamphlets, flyers, and other assorted hand-outs, but I didn't sign anything. I did, however, have my priorities pretty well figured out. My first choice was the Coast Guard, but my father was not a congressman, nor a golfing buddy of a congressman, so I had very little chance of getting in, since all the slots available were taken by congressmen's sons and golfing buddies of congressmen's sons. My second choice was the Air Force. I could cook, I could type and I was fairly literate, so I thought I might enlist and lasso a desk job in Florida, where I could develop a nice suntan while I served my four-year hitch. If THAT scheme didn't pan out, I chose the U.S. Navy as my backup plan. I like the water, I've never been seasick and my father was a sailor. I could wear bell-bottoms with button-up flys and carry on a family tradition, and I would see Vietnam from far offshore, if I saw it at all.
But the government froze the draft until they conducted a lottery, and I drew the lucky number of 353. I immediately tossed all that recruitment literature in the trash can and waited for my 1-H deferment (HIGH lottery number) to arrive in the mail. It did, and I never went to war.
Before my father died, he once said he would have sent me to Canada before he would have allowed me to be drafted and shipped off to Vietnam. I asked him why he thought I would accept that offer. He seemed surprised. Yeah, nobody, least of all ME, wanted to be drafted and shipped off to a war that was looking more and more senseless every day. But I would have gone, or joined the Air Force or the Navy. I would not have run away. I watched too many John Wayne movies during my formative years to live with myself if I did something so cowardly. I often wonder if my life would be entirely different if things hadn't worked out the way they did back then.
Vietnam was an ugly war, but that was because the people who called the shots were ugly people with a totally screwed-up idea of how to fight it. American soldiers fought bravely and inflicted incredible damage on the enemy. Piss-poor leadership doomed their efforts, but the soldiers deserve credit for what they did. They didn't lose the war. Politicians and bureaucrats did.
Read THIS. It's powerful.
All content © Rob Smith