I grew up as a military brat. At the height of the Vietnam war my dad was Surgeon for the 5th Air Force, based at Fuchu Air Station just outside of Tokyo. He was responsible for all AF hospitals along the Pacific rim: Okinawa (then still under U.S.occupation), the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, etc., but not Indochina or Thailand. Years later he told me he had nightmares about meeting incoming medevac planes from Vietnam and seeing either me or my older brother Ed on one of the litters. (We both served twice in Vietnam, but Ed received multiple Purple Hearts and a Silver Star as a Marine Sgt. and later Lt.–no one ever confused me with a hero). That had never occurred to me. I suspect in some ways the war was more stressful on him than on either of us.
I went to Indiana U. in August 1963, before the war was serious. I don’t think I had even heard of "Vietnam" at the time, and I know my atlas identified it instead as part of French Indochina. Indiana was a land-grant college which in those days meant that every male had to take two years of ROTC. I didn’t think much of it, but signed up for Air Force ROTC (out of respect for Dad, I suspect) and figured I’d probably do four years and then the minimum active duty as a JAG lawyer.
To my shock, when the time came to start the advanced program (final two years), the AF decided I was medically unfit. I had a history of asthma and a couple of old high school football injuries (dislocated right shoulder and left knee–I wasn’t any good but I had a lot of enthusiasm).
At the time Dad was Deputy Surgeon for the SAC in Omaha, and he assured me he would have some doctors look me over and get the decision reversed. That summer they checked me out and said I was fine, but the AF still turned me down. So I lied about my medical problems and joined the Army ROTC. Although I had a law school deferment (based on paperwork I filled out before the war really got started), I told them I wanted to serve first and I volunteered for Vietnam.
In 1969, I was an infantry recon platoon leader at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and didn’t really follow the news very much. I had 0600 reveille formations six days a week and spent a lot of time in the field. I was also a newlywed and I don’t think we even owned a TV.
After I had been in Vietnam a number of months, someone told me they were selling hot dogs at the USO (which I didn’t even know was there). I found my way to the USO, and on the table was a copy of US News, probably very old, and the cover story was about the draft lottery. Without much thought I opened it up, and when I looked up February 14 my heart almost stopped–it was No. 4! In some ways it made no sense to be alarmed–I was already in the Army and in Vietnam–but it still shocked me!