11-21: The Draftee

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me, e.g., today’s piece by Caroline Bologna, Parents Editor of the Huffington Post: “What I Learned about Patriotism from My Dad, A Vietnam War Draftee.”]

Most of my Army buddies and those I hang out with at reunions were, like myself, drafted in 1965. The story below sums up pretty well our role in U.S. military history. It does not mention PTSD … so I will.

It is my experience that PTSD does not discriminate. Whether a person joined or was drafted, the actual combat experience—and its after effects—can neither be predicted nor anticipated.

“We shouldn’t forget the other veterans, the ones who didn’t have the choice,” writes Caroline Bologna.

When my father was 22 years old, he was drafted into the United States military. The year was 1968, the Vietnam War was in full swing, and he was a recent college graduate with a wife and newborn baby.

My dad did not want to go to Vietnam for many reasons, which were obvious at the time but may be less apparent to people my age.

Vietnam was one of the longest and most unpopular wars in American history. The death toll reached over 58,000 U.S. military casualties by the conflict’s end. Servicemen were reportedly committing senseless acts of violence against civilians. Anti-war protests were rampant, and anti-war sentiment was not limited to fringe left-wing communities.

But this was the era of the draft, so how a soldier felt about participating in the war didn’t really matter.

The letter we all received from the Government bore the ironic salutation “Greetings.”

“I didn’t have a choice,” my dad told me … when I asked about his military experience. “I was just another draftee. It was something I had to do. Something a lot of us had to do.”

On Veterans Day, we honor soldiers who pledged to give their lives in the service of their country. But living in this age of military worship, I think my generation can’t fathom the experience of being a veteran who didn’t want anything to do with the fight and received nothing but disdain from the public. These are the veterans for whom the notions of patriotism and service are very complicated.

But they are veterans nonetheless, and their stories deserve to be told.

My dad’s … reflections are extremely matter of fact. There’s no fanfare, no sense of nostalgia, no evocations of glory.

“I think I made the best of it,” he says.

… After basic training and advanced individual training, he qualified for Officer Candidate School, where he learned to “square” his meals and engineer roads and bridges.

He ultimately accepted a post as a personnel officer and rose to the rank of first lieutenant. The job involved lots and lots of paperwork, a responsibility that would prepare him well for his future career as an attorney.

“I had no desire to be involved in the military at its core level: People with guns shooting each other,” he told me….

When I ask my dad if his veteran status makes him proud, he has a complicated answer. He said he’s never been able to say he was “proud” of his military service. But he doesn’t feel shame either. I think he just never really had the option to feel anything about it.

“I’m a Vietnam-era veteran. I was there because my country ordered me to be there, and I didn’t have any real choices,” he says. “That’s it.”…

That’s it.

*****

The illustration at the blog’s top is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.

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