In 1968-69, as an impressionable soph on the campus of UNC, I watched, read the daily Tar Heel, and observed the demonstrations for the cafeteria workers on main campus, and frankly was very confused. A 19 year-old from a middle class famiy in New Bern, NC was simply not equipped to handle or understand all the various sides of the war issue, and I do not even today.
Like everyone else, I did my best to avoid the draft and was successful, using a stomach ulcer which occcasionally flared up and was easily treated with a sponful or two of maalox.
However, in the summer of 1969, I found myself at Cape Cod, Mass, and exposed both to drug parties, and to young platoon leaders barely 2 years out of college coming home on leave from Viet Nam or getting out of the Army. Seeing my friends getting further involved in the ‘drug of the day’ did little to impress me, but I was moved by the calm confidence of these returning vets, only 3-4 years older than me. At summer’s end, I had a choice to make, return to UNC and watch as the ‘confused’ antiwar idealists tried to lead the (even more) confused (basic 19 year olds). I had seen enough of the drug culture, and I chose to enlist in the Army and to go to Viet Nam.
After a very quick year in infantry training, I was sent to Viet Nam, where I sloshed through rice paddies and served proudly with some of the most memorable ‘buddies’ I have had the privilege to be around. I avoided drugs at all costs, and this kept me alert and alive throughout my tour of duty, which was 19 months.
The opportunity to serve my country is one I treasure and am truly grateful for. Rest assured there was no ‘parade’ awaiting me or my buddies when we returned. Since my time in Viet nam as a combat infantryman, I have been faced with many challenging decisions, and I have been able to face them with the same calm confidence displayed by the young platoon commanders I so respected in the summer of 1969. My Viet Nam experience gave me that calm confidence.
While some I served with did not return, I am grateful to God that I am here today. Should my two sons (now 20 and 22 and both in college) choose to make the same decision, I would ask them to trust their own heart and make their own choice, and I hope it would be the right one.