Vietnam

 INTRODUCTION: In his cabin, Greg sat on the edge of his bed, and thought. Vietnam! School had turned crazy because of it. It followed him here to Idaho. He had known he couldn’t really escape, but he thought maybe getting this far away would ease the anxiety, somewhat. It hadn’t. Just hearing the word, and hearing about somebody in the service, brought it all back, almost as strong as when he left. He rationalized that it was other things that were keeping him from getting closer to Vic, but it really was Vietnam.

***

“Well, me being a college grad and you just graduating from high school, has seemed pretty significant. But it wasn’t really just that. It was more me trying to see the future. I mean, you’re about to go off to college. I don’t know how long I have a job here – they like to move people around – and, even without that uncertainty, there’s the whole Vietnam thing. I get worried every time the mail comes, wondering if there’ll be a “greeting” from Selective Service.”

   He pulled a kitchen chair right in front of her. “Okay, here goes. The past two years at college were really crazy. If you’d been gone a year, then came back, you wouldn’t believe you were in the same place. It started out mostly about the Vietnam War. Nobody understood why we were fighting a war in a foreign country most of us had never even heard about. That started all kinds of anti-war marches and protests on campus. More personal for many of us was that the Army was drafting men like crazy, and most of us were in the age group that was most eligible to be called up. Few of us had anything going that would keep us from being drafted. Being in school was a short-term fix, but if you ever got selected in the lottery and then were deferred because you were in school, you set yourself up to be drafted as soon as you graduated. We were indignant, not being able to choose whether or not we wanted to be in the Army. More than that, we were really scared. Nobody had any real information, but it was pretty clear a lot of men were getting killed over there. And if you didn’t actually die, it seemed like it was almost certain that you would come home injured, maybe really seriously. Guys started talking about moving to Canada until the war was over. I don’t know how many actually went, but I know some who did.”

   “It sounds pretty awful,” said Vic. 

   They sat quietly for a few minutes, both thinking their own thoughts. “So,” asked Vic, finally, “What keeps a man from being drafted?”

   “Well, if you’re between 18 and 26, not much. I think I’ve done the most important thing, and that’s keeping my draft information in the same office that I originally registered in.”

   “How does that help?”

   “I’m registered in a big city. The quota for each location is filled by enlistments and a lottery. In a big city, versus a smaller town, there will be more men volunteering, so the lottery will be smaller. Also, there will be more people in the lottery in the city, so my chances of being picked are less. If the war doesn’t go on forever, my name might never come up.

   “Other than that, you can avoid the draft by having a health or physical problem (I’m remarkably healthy); being a conscientious objector (I am generally opposed to war, but I think the definition is pretty precise); being a homosexual (no); having a wife, kids, or someone else dependent on my care (nope); being in college (did that; doesn’t work, anymore); having some civilian job that the Government thinks is “essential” (I don’t think they consider assistant refuge managers “essential”); or escaping to Canada. I guess you could take the initiative, and enlist in one of the services that probably wouldn’t send people to Vietnam – like the Coast Guard.

    “Only medical or physical problems, or having dependents, pretty much assure you will be left alone. Schooling is only good when you’re in school; you’re fair game when you get out. And if you get called when you’re in school, you can get a deferral until you’re finished, but then you have to serve, for sure.

   “Qualifying as a conscientious objector, or admitting to being a homosexual, can keep you out of the service, but you’re not home free. If you object to fighting, they put you in a job where you support the war, but don’t have to shoot at anybody. If you decline that, you could go to jail. In some parts of our country, you could go to jail for just being a homosexual. In either case, you probably live out your whole life with stigmas that affect you, your family, your job opportunities, and how people think of you. Those kinds of cures probably turn out to be as bad or worse than just taking your medicine.”

   Vic took that all in, before speaking. “What about Canada?” she asked, finally.

  Greg laughed, but not happily. “The big unknown. If you go, you certainly avoid the draft, but what then?  I suppose if you go before you actually receive a draft notice, you could later try to convince the Selective Service that you just went to Canada to work for awhile. If you go after you are called, then I think you are officially a deserter. Maybe you could never come back. If, when the war ended, the President decided to grant amnesty to the Canadian draft dodgers, it would probably be with some serious penalties, like going to jail or losing your voting rights. Under the best of circumstances, there wouldn’t be any ‘come home, all is forgiven’ ending. Maybe worst of all, you would be separated from all your family and friends for at least as long as the war continued.

   “A year or so ago, I think I might have considered Canada. Now, I think I have too much here that I want to stay for. My terror of Vietnam pales a little when I think of things that way.”

   Vic had one idea she wanted to put forward, but she was afraid he might not even talk about it – and might even get angry. She decided to risk it. “So. What would you think about marrying me? And maybe even starting to work on Greg Junior, or Vic Junior?”

   He didn’t get angry. He reached over, softly touched her cheek, and smiled. “Don’t think I haven’t thought about that, myself – and not always in the context of Vietnam! But I don’t want us to ever make those kinds of decisions just to solve a particular problem. We love each other, and even though this epic romance has been building for a relatively short time, I feel it has the potential to continue an upward climb for another 80, 90, or 100 years, at least. With that kind of a time frame, we can decide marriage and babies completely on the basis of what we want, and when we want it.”

   “Okay,” she whispered.

   “And, for the record, when we get around to creating the next Cleveland-Anderson generation, I will not consider the process ‘working on it!’”

***

   A phone call Thursday night changed a lot of things. Tim Johnson called Chuck to tell him that neither he nor Rusty would be at work the next day. They had just received word that their brother, Dave, had been killed in Vietnam, apparently just days after he arrived there. They had no idea when there could be a real funeral, but they were going to have a memorial service at their sister’s home in town on Saturday.

   As soon as Vic was told, she rushed across to Greg’s house, barely waiting for him to open the door before she was in his arms, crying uncontrollably. Not knowing what was wrong, he moved them over to the armchair, and sat them down with her still holding on to him. He stroked her hair, and let her sob for awhile.

   “I’m sad for them,” she said, after finally telling him what was wrong, “But I also know this has to be especially hard for you, right now. I didn’t want you to find out first with a bunch of people. I thought you’d need some time.”

   He kissed her on the forehead. ‘Thank you for thinking about that. I picked the right girlfriend.”

   That made her smile. “You’re maybe a little confused about who picked who, but you’re welcome. I should get back, now. I sort of rushed out the door when I heard the news. They’ll be wondering what that was all about.”

*** 

   Saturday-on-the-porch happened on Sunday. All the elements remained the same. Vic expressed concern about how all the Vietnam business was affecting Greg.

   “As you anticipated, it’s been a little rough, mentally. My worries about dying or being seriously injured became suddenly glaringly real. But I don’t think I told you all that’s bothering me about Vietnam and the draft.”

   “So, tell me.”

   “Okay. First, I am definitely a peacenik. I don’t think I believe that there are any ‘just wars,’ or that anything has ever been really solved by going to war. I wonder about World War II, though. It has always been portrayed as a glorious event, in which the American population came together with much of Europe in a voluntary show of mass patriotism. We didn’t need a draft. The Nazis were a tangible  evil at work that needed us all to overcome them. We did. But I did a little research: In that war, over 400,000 Americans were killed, and maybe 700,000 more were wounded. In all – military and civilians, all countries included – some 75 million people died.

   “But then there’s the Korean War. We fought it for three years in the 1950s, and I’ve heard that maybe 40,000 American servicemen died and 100,000 more were wounded. They say that millions of Koreans – soldiers and civilians – died. What was the result? Pretty much nothing. The war never officially ended; we just came home!

   “And now Vietnam. The French and the Vietnamese had been fighting pretty much forever. We got involved sometime in the early ‘50s, I guess, when we started sending military people to train the South Vietnamese how to fight. The French pulled out about that time, and it’s been our war ever since. I don’t know if anybody knows how many U. S. soldiers are over there – I’ve heard estimates of 15,000 – but we’re not training anymore; we’ve doing the actual fighting.

   “Why are we there? Like in Korea, we’re told that we’re there to stop the spread of Communism. I don’t know how we do that by killing and dying. I don’t even know what that means! If we can’t even define our objectives in tangible terms, is it really worth fighting for - worth dying for?

   “Even before the current war, my generation was required to register with Selective Service - and we knew philosophically that we might be drafted – but we had lived through many years of ‘peace.’ The likelihood of being called to service had always been extremely low, particularly if one was in college. Now, here we were just graduated, or on the verge of graduation - many of us newly married - ready to begin our real move into adulthood, and Uncle Sam was about to put our lives on hold (if not actively jeopardizing them) for a war in a country we had hardly heard of. ‘Just’ or ‘unjust’ war be damned; we’re irate, worried, and scared for ourselves.”

   “Wow,” she said, as he paused.

   “Wow, indeed. But here’s what I really wanted to tell you. I know that I don’t want to fight anybody – I don’t think I could try to kill anybody, without a really strong reason - and I definitely don’t want to spend any time in the military for any reason. Everything I know about the armed services is that they want to de-individualize and then dehumanize recruits. They want people who will follow orders without question. That’s not me. Not only do I not want to be in that environment, I seriously doubt that I could survive in it. After many years of searching for who I really am, I have finally become comfortable with me, and I can’t see me buckling under to regimentation of the military sort.

   “I can see that.”

   “So, here’s what I’m thinking for me – and for us. I’m going to try not to worry – or to worry minimally – and just keep living. Maybe I’ll never be called. If I am, then hopefully you and I together can come up with the right decision – for us, together. How’s that sound?”

   “It sounds like probably the best we can do.”


To Writing-it-Down Homepage


Leave a comment: symbios@condortales.com

© Sanford Wilbur 2022