Tomorrow is the day we celebrate Veterans Day.
At one time, it would have unified America. Today, I don’t know if it could. Or if anything could. And that’s a shame.
Certainly it didn’t a half-century ago, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when veterans returning from service in the Vietnam era often were spat on — the kinder of the denigrations — for their willingness to serve their country in uniform.
This year, as it was in 1967, Nov. 6 is the first Monday in November. On that Monday, a full half-century ago, I was inducted into the U.S. Army in Chicago, only a few weeks after my teenage years ended.
The Army swept us up that cold Monday morning, swore us in to protect and serve, and just as promptly shipped us off to Fort Leonard Wood, MO., for the beginning of eight weeks of basic training. Yes, it was as difficult then as people say it is today. It may have even been worse.
A few weeks after Christmas, it was movement to Friendship Airport, today known as Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport, just south of Baltimore. Hair still trimmed neatly short, it was off to Fort Holabird on Dundalk Avenue in Baltimore for U.S. Army CounterIntelligence training.
It seemed then that everyone was going to Vietnam to fight, and each of us assumed that Vietnam would
be part of our futures.
In reality, as I’ve learned since, during the Vietnam era 1960-75, 10.5 million citizens served their country
in uniform, about 3.5 million in Southeast Asia. Every family knew someone who was serving.
Somehow, in its infinite wisdom, the Army ultimately assigned this Illinois farmboy to the 109th Military Intelligence Group, Region II headquarters in Philadelphia, where we had responsibility for the eastern half of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Our agents supported the Delaware National Guard, which occupied Wilmington that year in the face of what then were called by the press and government “race riots.”
I wasn’t there in 1967 by the draft, or even the threat of the draft. I volunteered.
In a speech many of us remembered from August 1963, Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev looked at us through the black and white TV screens, promising this deadly warning from a totalitarian socialist state: “We will
We believed it an expression of the USSR’s intent.
Later, the popular idea advanced by JFK and LBJ and their generals was the “domino theory,” that, if and when South Vietnam fell to the Communists, one day we’d be fighting them on our doorsteps.
I bought into the abstraction of America as a special place, and that we who enjoyed its benefits — including the freedoms to make something of ourselves — had a duty to serve when our country was at war.
Many of my peers were off to Canada to avoid service, while some simply finagled deferments. It never was up to me to judge anyone.
Rather, I dropped out of the University of Illinois to enlist because the Vietnam War seemed to be peaking. Today, pseudo-sophisticates would mock the naiveté and innocence we may have displayed in believing USSR’s warning, but it certainly seemed pretty powerful back then.
It remains important to me that we respect the flag, and our great country. And knowing then what I know now, I likely would have done the same thing today. Some things simply are that important.
Love of country, imperfect as it is. Military service. The flag. A willingness to sacrifice yourself to preserve
Please remember to thank a veteran next week for offering up herself or himself to keep America free.