I was and am a conservative. I was the Duke Chapter Chairman of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). I believed in the war and was ready to do my part. My draft lottery was in 1969. In 1970, I was selected by YAF to visit Vietnam for two weeks for a fact-finding tour. Those two weeks convinced me the war was being bungled, and every American soldier I talked to over there told me I’d be a fool to let myself be drafted, and that I should do what I could not to go. Their word of choice was "wasted". They told me "Don’t get yourself wasted in this war".
I was a procrastinator, and no draft dodger. My only option was to enlist in a National Guard, Coast Guard, or Reserve unit before I got drafted. But I was too late. Every National Guard, Coast Guard, and Reserve unit I went to already had long waiting lists. I was sure to be drafted for Vietnam before I would be called by any of those units. When I went to my home in Atlantic City for spring break, I made one last inquiry to my home town unit, the 5th Battalion of the 112th Field Artillery of the New Jersey National Guard. To my surprise, there was no waiting list and I was taken right in.
Afterwards, I quickly learned why. Half the battalion had started as a "colored" unit back when the army was segregated, and the commander and the senior sergeants were blacks who had been with the unit since World War II.
My six years in that unit changed my outlook on a whole lot of things. The most outstanding change of attitude was my absolute admiration and respect for the generation of black men in my father’s generation who owned thriving businesses, held leadership positions in their churches, fraternal organizations, and in politics, and who had good homes and families in spite of so much discrimination. They had skills, confidence, and humor, and showed genuine warmth and friendship for the handful of us college white boys who joined their unit to get out of Vietnam. They treated us fairly as individuals, with not a hint of resentment for whatever other whites had done to them in the past–and now and then they would tell us of those things. The young blacks of the day would and did call these men "Uncle Toms", but these black men of my father’s World War II generation were real men who I would follow anywhere. One downside of integration and affirmative action is that it is hard to find real, responsible men in the black community today like the older black men of the 5th Battalion, 112th Field Artillery of the New Jersey National Guard.
It was prejudice that prevented that unit from being overwhelmed with applications by white college kids like the other units in 1969-1970. But that prejudice kept me out of Vietnam and gave me a six year experience I will never forget.