I had watched the Vietnam war unfold since 1965 when my uncle headed to Vietnam with the 3rd Marine division. He ended up in Danang, a strange name I’d never heard of before, but I guess that’s the nature of any war, even today. I was just entering high school in 1965 and little did I know then that Uncle Sam was due to come knocking on my door. I was a supporter of the Vietnam war until it changed dramatically around 1969-1970. Before that it appeared we were in it to win it. Still I wasn’t going to enlist but was kind of hoping I would get drafted.
I spent a year in college in 1969-1970 and that was a bad year to try to get an education. I would go to my classroom and my professor decided we were going to hold English class on the green while a war protest was going on. So I decided by the end of that year to say the hell with this BS. I had just turned 18 in 1970, and my draft status was changed from II-S, student deferment to I-S (not I-A which was pack your bag bud you won a trip to Vietnam all expenses paid). My mother was in a panic when I told her I wasn’t going back to college the next year and she started talking crazy talk: I almost lost my brother in WWII and his brother fought in Korea and all my uncles were in the Pacific and another fought with the fighting 69th in WWI. My answer at the time was, well, this is my war, my time.
In September 1970 I enrolled at RCA Institutes, an Electronics trade school in a two-year program. Hell, one month after I graduated HS, they landed on the moon. I thought I better get in on the ground floor because we’ll be working there in 30 years. Dumb ass kid I was! My draft status went back to II-S student deferment.
Then in March of 1972 they pulled the lottery numbers and sure as hell I drew number 28. I knew then I was going to be wearing a uniform someplace. I had one month to graduate from school and I had to report to Ft. Hamilton for a pre-induction physical. I saw every kid I ever went to school with that day, all standing around in tee shirts and drawers waiting on the doctors. That’s a story in itself, but at the end they said well congratulations! I said oh good, did you find I have something wrong with me, like flat feet? He said oh NO! you are perfectly well, and expect to hear from us by May or June. I was pissed off now. I had finally gotten my life on a path and the US Army was going to screw it up. Soldiers were being sent home from Vietnam. They were turning it over to the South Vietnamese to run, badly. And by March of ’72 the North Vietnamese were attacking the South with tanks and frontal assults and I guess Nixon didn’t want the war to end in a defeat, I think they also feared another TET-like attack in the whole country. What to do? I had always wanted to fly helicopters, so I went to a guard unit at Floyd Bennet field. Guard units generally had waiting lists or were full complement and you couldn’t get in.
Then my friend suggested the Navy Reserve. He spent a year on Midway as a cook. That didn’t sound like fun. Then I went to the old arsenal in Brooklyn and found two torpedoes turned upside down in the concrete. I figured it was the Submarines. I knocked on the door and nobody answered. I found out later on that it was a Marine reserve unit I was pounding on the door to get in. Finally I said screw it. Draft my ass. Then a friend of mine from high school told me he had enlisted in a guard unit on 14th St in Brooklyn, an Artillery unit. So I went down and signed up and was placed on the wait list. Three weeks went by and they called me down to swear me in. I agreed to a 6 year enlistment. Three days later, still in April, i received a draft notice and a token to report to Ft. Hamilton. Because the State grabbed me before the Federal Government, I was theirs.
I lived on Ft. Hamilton parkway and would see all the future soldiers being bused to the base. I didn’t need a token, I could walk to the base. So, the guy at the physical was full of it. They should have taken me while they had the chance, but in the end I’m sorry I didn’t just enlist at 18. It wasn’t so bad. When they finally sent us all to training in Ft. Polk, LA it was already February 1973. By June I was at Ft. Sill, OK. We watched the POWs coming off the plane, and the war was just about over. In my graduation
class, nobody received any orders to report to Vietnam. Once Vietnam fell on April 30th, 1975 our training changed. We went back to hiding our howitzers in the tree lines again like WWII. No more out in the open.
The kids today that make up the services should be proud that they made a commitment without it being forced on them. Vietnam was a bad chapter in our history, but the thing about history is you should never repeat bad things. This is a great country, always has been. Just sometimes it’s run by poor choices.