Older dopers, your reaction to participation in the Vietnam War

This. I’m a decade+ younger than this thread’s poll voters, but I remember very clearly that the kerfuffles about “draft dodging” were about doing illegal stuff to get out of serving: draft evasion. Getting a student deferment or a National Guard appointment, etc., was not “dodgy” because it was legal: draft avoidance.

I would quibble that what did a lot to shift the popular perception of the meaning of “draft dodging” was not so much “valuing military service” in the abstract, but rather Republican rhetoric during Bill Clinton’s Presidential campaign in the early '90s. A lot of people were suddenly denouncing a Vietnam-era student deferment as “draft dodging”, and thereby conflating it with illegal evasion such as fleeing to Canada or faking papers, which back in the day were seen as very different.

That’s a point.

Nitpick on the nitpick (Sorry!): LBJ announced he wouldn’t run in March, 1968, five months before the Democratic convention. He’d been the presumptive nominee. While the growing unpopularity of the war in Vietnam was surely part of that decision, I’ve always thought his health was also a factor. He’d had angina for years.

I’ll never be too old to be so ably taught. Thank you.

As a 50 year old son of a Vietnam vet, who is now 74, I find this thread interesting, to see what our fathers were thinking during that time. I didn’t vote per the rules of the thread but would like to expand on the something else choice.

I see that choice is at 55% which pretty much confirms my fathers thoughts as he explained it to me. He said he signed up because he knew he’d get drafted. He thought if he signed up he could pick what branch he would serve in.

He joined the Navy and became a police officer after his service, but it wasn’t based on any thoughts on the war.

His brother waited to get drafted and served in the Army.

I am unable to figure out how to vote in the poll. I am 68 years old, and I was active in the anti war movement as a teenager before I was required to register for the draft. I did register as the law required. The draft lottery for my age group was held in February of 1972 while I was still under a student deferment. My draft number was 333, which meant that the odds of me being drafted were almost non existent.

As an adult I was able to trace the cusp event that started my opposition to the Vietnam War back to the age of twelve. My sister and her husband, who was active duty Air Force lived with us and he and I were very close. My sister was pregnant with their first child, and less than six hours after he was born my brother in law was shipped off to Vietnam for a year.

Even as a twelve year old I saw this as completely unfair, and from that moment on I viewed the events of the Vietnam War with a critical eye. From that perspective it was easy enough, even as a teenager, to question just why we were there in the first place. This was a civil war between to ideologies in a country half a world away. Why did we have to send men over there to die for one side or the other.

I was active in local protests and moved up to the national level when I was 15. I was clubbed unconscious by one of Mayor Daley’s Storm troopers in Lincoln park on Sunday, August 25th 1968.

I was in college in 1967 when I received my 1A notice to report for a physical. Somehow, the school had neglected to send in my 2S deferment. I wasn’t against the war so much as I was against me getting shot for no good reason. I went for my physical, and they told me that I was eligible for the draft in 28 days. I called the Navy immediately and told them I’d enlist if they would tell the Army to go fuck themselves. My reason for joining the Navy was to supposedly stay out of Vietnam. Unfortunately, I accidentally chose to be a Seabee, which meant that a year later I was standing on the tarmac at Da Nang Air Base, drenched in sweat and wondering WTF I’d gotten myself into.

My reaction to participation has changed over the years. Back then, I didn’t feel that I really had a choice. I hated being there, but I also hated the protesters back in the US. I don’t think I understood that it wasn’t me they were protesting, but rather the government’s participation in a bullshit war. I understand now that it was a terrible waste of people and treasure, and if I had to do it over again, I might have taken a different path. I don’t defend the war at all, but I do take issue with people who glibly dismiss the lives lost there and the terrible psychic damage done to so many men and women. My own version of PTSD comes out pretty strongly when that happens.

Well said.

Thank you for your service.

Same for my dad (he’s 71). He was going to get drafted so him and his best friend signed up for the Army. Somehow his friend got sent to Germany, and dad was in the Army 1st Cav and got dropped out of helicopters in the middle of the jungle.

Funny thing is that dad was a full-fledged member of the Mennonite Church at the time. His folks had joined when dad was 5 or so. He could have easily been a conscientious objector. But he would rather get shot at than admit he was a Mennonite, I guess. His father had been in WWII but was not pressuring him to go.

By the time he got home, he was anti-war. Going to Vietnam definitely fucked him up for the rest of his life. It’s only recently, like within the past 5 years or so, that he’s letting people positively recognize his service. He’s now a VFW member.

It is my contention that the VFW royally fucked up by snubbing the Vietnam vets (like the rest of the country did). Now the WWII members are dying off. I don’t know if they’ve rectified the situation by inviting current veterans of Middle East, etc. engagements. Since my husband died 20 years ago, I’m not in touch with the military community.

The older brother of a friend of mine joined the Air Force in November of 1974. After boot camp he was sent to Vietnam, his job was to help decommission equipment that was going to be left behind. His work group was pulled out in July of 75 just before the North Vietnam army overran the air field.

Yep. Dad has never tried to join our local VFW. Suddenly he’s an “elite” member because all of the WWII and most of the Korea guys have died off. And there’s very few Vietnam guys too. But it’s good for him, the younger guys boost his spirit.

You’ll be happy to know that the last 2 commanders of his post are Middle East vets. They had the Traveling Vietnam Wall a few years ago, and this summer they had a traveling Middle East wars display.

The VFW can go fuck itself. Actually, all of those associations can just fuck right off. Even though I spent a career in the military, the past is the past and I don’t need to keep reliving it with a bunch of bar flies. In one moment of some sort of delirium, I thought it would be a good idea to join a Seabee Facebook group. It took two days for me to realize that the place was full of Neanderthals who spent their time crying about the past and making racist/sexist comments. I need to pay more attention to my inner voice that says “Wha-a-a-?”

I hear ya. But IMHO it didn’t have to be that way. Maybe the VFW wouldn’t have been the right group. But it would have been good if Vietnam vets had been welcomed by other veterans or at least had someplace where they could have supported each other. Instead of being ostracized and isolated.

My oldest brother had a high lottery number (graduated HS in 1973). My dad had a boat load of first cousins in Canada, and the plan was for Bill to go visit them for however long it took. That surprised me a bit at the time, particularly my dad, but by that time a lot of people knew it had been a mistake to go and a bigger mistake to stay as long as we did.

I personally am in the notch year where I never had to register for the draft. So the Selective Service in theory knows nothing about me, as opposed to two older and two younger brothers.

As a Canadian, living in Montreal, I often walked by the almost daily demonstrations outside the US Consulate (a short walk from two universities). A friend lived in a high-rise across the street, and we would often sit on the balcony and watch the action. If I was American, I would have been prime draft age at the time.

I had about a dozen friends who had avoided the draft (I worked with two of them). Most had low-paying jobs, and wanted to go back to the US (most eventually did). Bur at least two stayed in Montreal, and had/have successful careers, and family life. Have you ever heard French spoken with a Texas accent?

The US consulate subsequently moved to a building on a very narrow street, where it was almost impossible to have massive demonstrations.

That would be conscientious objector.

I want to address this. I grew up with the Vietnam War. I knew a lot of guys who got drafted, a lot who protested, and a couple of conscientious objectors who got wounded in action. (It’s amazing how many people think CO status is a Get Out of War Free card when it often means you don’t shoot, but you have a job–chopper pilot, medic, etc.–where people shoot at you.)

But for all the stories of returning Vietnam vets getting spat on and hassled, the broader issue was that even Hawks were neither sensitive to their issues nor appreciative of their service. They were all for the war, but not all for the men returning from it. Vets I’ve known have said everyone acted like they’d just gone to the store instead of a war. The Silent Majority really was silent. There was a sort of passive ostracism that both the Right and Left indulged in.

The year I retired, my school district put on a big student program (all grades) for Veterans Day. Veterans of each war were asked to stand and were applauded. One Vietnam vet told me in tears, “That’s the first time anyone ever thanked me.” I told a Vietnam vet friend of mine, and he said bitterly, “He’s one up on me.” And that second guy? He realized when he was over there that the war was a crock. He really wants people to say, “Thank you, and we’re sorry. We’re just so sorry.”

It ticks me off when people assume if they post a “Thank you” meme on social media on Veterans Day, they’re supporting our troops. You really support our troops? Fight to get them some better damned help when they come back damaged physically and mentally.

Not to hijack, but I’ve never understood why the VFW snubbed Vietnam vets. Can someone explain?

I’m Canadian so I didn’t vote as it’s not applicable. I’ll just say that I felt lucky to be in Canada because I was of prime draft age, although if I had been in the US I would likely have got a student deferment. I was, in any case, strenuously opposed to the Vietnam war which I considered an entirely unnecessary horror. In an earlier time I would have felt duty-bound to serve in World War 2, but not Vietnam.

One of my American contemporaries (older than me, but not by much) is the humourist Dave Barry, a guy I admire who has many of the same values as me. His particular approach was to apply for an exemption as a conscientious objector, which he got. I would have had a similar mindset.