Sunday, November 11, 2007

 

I am not a veteran


Forty years after I might have served, I have to admit I'm somewhat ashamed that I didn't.

In the late 60s I, like most of my classmates, went on to college after high school - that kept me out of the draft. Then the national draft lottery was established and my birthday was drawn as #128 in that first lottery. Based on call-up projections, I fully expected to be drafted. I was ready to go. It was a long wait until the end of the year when my local draft board announced it was stopping at number 125. I had just skated by.

Lots of relatives, friends, classmates and acquaintances joined up (including two brothers) or were drafted during those years; some went to Viet Nam; almost everybody I knew came home. At the same time, lots of relatives, friends, classmates, and acquaintances opposed the war; some were pretty outspoken. In those times, passions were pretty high on all sides.

I started college as an ROTC cadet with every intention of joining the Air Force after four years. Somewhere in that time,though, the world changed around us, and eventually so did I. Most of the students at my school came from traditional deep south conservative families, and my school was slow to see the growing antiwar movement sweeping across the college campuses of the nation. For me, the turning point was Kent State. If you were around at the time, you'd understand what that meant to a 19 year-old college student in middle America. It fully undercut my faith in the government, and I started listening more carefully to what everybody else was hollering about. My hair grew long and my dress code changed to bell-bottoms, sandals, and tie-dyed tee shirts.

At first, I showed up at a few local rallies against the war, but these were half-hearted and seemed to be led by fanatics that I didn't trust or want to be around. Once I was free of the draft, I began to just let it all slide - like so many others seemed to be doing. The war became something to watch on the news and gripe about. After college I spent a few years teaching at a small high school in rural Jamaica and put the craziness of the US political scene behind me.

I returned to the US just before Nixon resigned. The war was soon over. I didn't go out and greet the returning soldiers. Nor did I protest and call them names. I just let it go. That's where my regret comes in. I knew those veterans coming home were being treated unfairly by the protesters and the media, yet I didn't do anything to make them welcome. I just watched it on TV and went on with my life.

Over the years, I've talked to veterans who served on the ground in Viet Nam. Most have put it behind them. I've read many of the books and published first-person stories of what they experienced. Because my father, his brothers, and a sister all served in World War II, I've always been interested in the experiences of the WWII vets. My father-in-law served in Korea. I can't say what I would be today, had I also served.

At this point, on this day, all I can say to those who survive (and to the families of those who didn't) is:

Thank You!

Comments:
Hi Guanaco. I am a “young” one, so I cannot comment on the Vietnam era. However, I did serve with at least one Vietnam vet from 1992-1993 when I was over in Okinawa. Your post is very interesting. I always admire sincerity. Regardless of decisions made or opinions formed back then, there is always today and tomorrow for something positive to occur. Whether it be sending a care package or volunteering at a local USO – you would be surprised at how far so little can go. I served with Marines that are still in - that have done three tours in Iraq and at least one in Afghanistan. The last I heard, having previously served or political ideologies were not prerequisites for offering encouragement!
 
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