VIETNAM VETERAN
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
By Eric Lee Baker

 

I chose to interview a neighbor
who fought in Vietnam from 1970-73. His job was not out in the field actually fighting
but repairing airplanes after they returned from bombing runs.
His attitude towards the war was clipped and bitter.
I was surprised that he even allowed me to ask him the questions that he did.

We discussed his opinions of the war
from both a political and military point of view
and the following are basically what he said in response to my questions.

I began by asking
if he was drafted or volunteered. He responded that he was drafted
and did not really want to go but his father would tolerate nothing else other than his serving his country.
He even tried to enroll in community college to avoid having to go. That simple draft notice
cost him a relationship with his father
which became a virtual alienation after he returned from the war.

Most of the people over there,
he said, did not seem interested in why they were there or what was really going on.
In fact, he claimed that many of the people with whom he was close
were totally against the war effort but did not want to go to Canada to avoid the draft.
Politically speaking, he hated Johnson with a passion.
What little T.V. the servicemen got to watch often showed the American government
proclaiming the war effort a tremendous success when men were actually dropping like flies.
"It was terribly hard to have to watch this.", he said.
Unlike most soldiers, he wrote virtually no letters home and had no girlfriend to write to either.

Almost all of the information he received
came from friends or military radio. He claimed that it was common knowledge
that most of the news reported on military radio was carefully edited or simply false.
News was based on whatever rumor was floating around a base
and would be geared to quell those rumors as completely false and without merit.
Most men listened to the radio only for the music, since it was a reminder of home.

As part of his job,
he would sometimes spend several weeks on an aircraft carrier
and work on maintenance and salvage teams. Salvage work was most dangerous
because it often involved going into territory which was unprotected
to get parts from planes which had been shot down.
Parts were scarce, especially those for planes,
and he commented on how you learned to repair the unrepairable
and fix the unfixable. It was only during these runs that he carried a gun in case of a firefight.
Ironically, he claimed that the whole time he was overseas, he never fired a shot.

Although his job kept him free from combat situations,
it provided no immunity from experiencing the death of friends
and witnessing the ravaging effects war can have on an individual.
People would often fake "shell shock" to get placed on sick leave,
but this would only last for a day or two before they would be forced back into the field.
During this time, he claimed to stay mostly to himself.
When stationed inland, soldiers would often engage in heavy drug use and prostitution
and this behavior was rampant on the base as well.
He claimed that little effort was made to control soldiers under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Being a mechanic,
he also claimed to be looked down upon by other soldiers
because he did not have to fight in the jungle. Although there was never
any physical intimidation, he claimed that soldiers would become quiet when you entered the room
or would not speak to you in a bar. The service, he claimed, was very segregated,
not by race, but by class. Pilots stuck with other pilots and mechanics with other mechanics.
It was almost as if no one wanted to get to know anybody else
because the chances were very great that once a friendship was formed,
one of you was not going to come back from a mission one day.

Despite the fact that he didn't approve of the war in the first place,
he felt that we did have the capability to win it in the long run,
but were prevented from doing so by the politics at home.

He claimed that so many servicemen
hated Jane Fonda for her protests at home,
that the rec room on board one of the aircraft carriers had a giant picture of her
which soldiers used as a dart board.

Towards the end of the conflict,
he claimed that the attitudes of the protesters at home
greatly affected the morale of troops that he served with.
Many began to lose the idea that they were here to fight for American ideals
and there was nothing that the "Brass" could do about it.

When he returned home,
he rented an apartment in Harrisonburg and has lived there ever since,
working at the same garage since 1973.

I noticed that despite the fact that he was obviously friendly,
he appeared almost sullen at times and I felt like an idiot
for asking him about certain things such as how he felt about his being drafted
and what his attitude about the war in general was.

He was not injured so he receives no disability.

He also doesn't visit the Memorial.
In fact when I asked, he said he had never been there and did not intend to ever go.
When I left...... I felt somewhat relieved ..... not because of his attitude,
but because I felt I had asked a lot of questions that I shouldn't have
and maybe brought back a lot of details that he didn't want to remember.

"Vietnam," he said, "should never have happened!"
He also said that if he could have done it, he would have fled to Canada.

In the three hours I spent with him,
I gained more of a perspective on this war than any book I have ever read could hope to teach me.
I finally looked at this war from a different standpoint
and excluded the strategy and the guns and the admiration for the military thinking involved in it.
Instead I looked at the lives it destroyed, both living and dead and came to realize
that war is indeed hell, in the truest sense of the word.

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