Three weeks ago my wife and our daughter and I were in Moscow to celebrate her mother’s 90th birthday (which was on March 10). Somehow when I woke up today it occurred to me that a man born on the same day could have joined the Soviet army and participated in the final push into Berlin for the defeat of Hitler. Likewise in the US a man born on the day could probably have gotten into the US military and participated in the final actions in Europe or the Pacific of the war. But probably few born much after then could have had that experience. So, whatever the sociologists or demographers say, this was the tail end of the “Greatest Generation,” with Americans born then having some experience as young people of the tail end of the Great Depression as well as of WW II, the signature events of that generation.
Next came the Silent Generation, whose front end includes the veterans of the Korean War, now in their mid-80s, more or less. In contrast with the Greatest and their unabashed victory, the Korean War was ulitmately a stalemate, and its veterans have long complained with some reason of not getting much attention, even as as many died during it roughly as the later and longer Vietnam War. But then maybe that is because the Silents just did not make enough noise.
Which brings us to the Boomers, who got Vietnam, at least the front end of the generation. And this one was a loss after it became very unpopular and tore the nation apart. For the record, I got out of it through having a high draft number, 346, not through having my father pay a doctor to make up phony bone spurs for me as someone else did, someone who had the nerve to say he did not respect John McCain for getting captured during the war.
You did not miss anything in the late sixties. Amongst us; there were those who were drafted and those of us who were passed on by the draft, those of us who enlisted as I did, those of us who protested, those who got married, those who left the country, those who feinted an illness or disorder, and those who were really ill or incapacitated. 58,000 of us were killed during that war.
I often hear the phrase, “I am a combat veteran.” Great, you served in a theater of combat like many of us. Where I take exception is when it is used to justify an action. Most recently in my county, a member of the veterans committee solicited a donation from a constituent, had it made out in his name, and then proceeded to make an expenditure. The problem arose when the person making the donation wanted a receipt. He could not make a receipt without reporting the donation. The county attorney got involved, the newspapers, and everyone else.
In the next meeting of the committee, the man announced he would not run again. It was interesting to hear many of my fellow veterans get up and first announce how they served in a combat area (mostly Vietnam) and then go on to praise he gentleman who illegally spent a donation by a constituent, signed the check made out to him, and without prior authorization. Having served in an area of combat does not give you a pass to be a thief or make your comment any more valid. And we as veterans can not justify the taking of money illegally.
The larger picture here is if the VHA and the VA expects to survive, it needs to embrace “all” veterans as their are far fewer veterans who served in combat areas then of the total. We all did our part when it was asked of us. I have no opinion on those who avoided Vietnam. Those who avoided it probably did what they thought was right at the time and maybe paid a price which they may still be paying today. Private “heel spurs” needs to shut up as he escaped reconciliation with his cowardice and due to being born on third base. I was no Senator’s son.
As to the distinction, the notice, the parades, and the medals? Give me my friends back instead.
This reminds me of a conversation I had with a high school history teacher about Korea and Vietnam.
My question was why we studied one and basically just brushed over the other, and basically the response was that Vietnam is primarily important as a frame for discussing things that were happening in the US at that time.
Without the civil rights era, no one would be studying Vietnam either. Vietnam veterans have standing because they are representative of one or the other side of a domestic social struggle.
We study “World War II” but we don’t study the Sino Japanese wars, or the Xinjiang. If you were actually studying them as a series of causes and effects, and their antecedents, you would. We don’t because we aren’t studying the wars, they are mile-markers for American internal and external movements.
I had a low lottery number of 80, but “applicants wearing orthodontic appliances requiring active treatment are ineligible for induction”.
$1500 and wearing braces for 2.5 years.
French and German 90 year-olds will have a few more years to reach that milestone, but my 91 year-old father missed combat because he was still in training when the war ended.
My father was too young to get drafted into WWII, but did serve in Korea and died last summer at 90. I would have been drafted to serve in Vietnam with a draft number of 19 but escaped with a 2-S deferment. A couple of buddies were not so lucky—one died and the other was shot up pretty good. I was as Patriotic as any kid in those days watching the Memorial Day parade with the old guys who had served in WWI, the middle aged men from WWII, the young adult men from Korea and the kids who were just back from Vietnam, but it all changed in 1968. Unfortunately, Nixon won with Wallace’s help and the slaughter continued for another 5 years. Quite apart from Watergate, that was really my awakening to the notion that our federal government does not have the country best interests in mind. Arguably, LBJ was the last president who cared about people AND could convince Congress to go along. I think the Boomers are responsible and that is the reason why I am looking to young people much more than Boomers to save the day,
I think what is discounted so far is the impact of television on both civil rights and Vietnam. People across the country saw it up close and as personal as anyone would want to. The medium moved people in a way that no radio or movie new short could.
And now we have fox news.
There is an old wisecrack that if you remember the 60s you were not really there. But, somehow, I do remember at least a bit of the 60s. Early in the decade I was quite hawkish and supported the war. But my views changed. In 1966 I actually participated at Wisconsin in a demo that protested student deferments, really, although I took mine, not being keen on fighting in a war I did not support. For a few days in 1967 I thought I was a conscientious objector, but then realized that indeed I would have fought in WW II.
I note that there were young men who signed up for WW II at age 16 by lying about their ages. That happened quite a lot in WW II, although that sort of thing does not go on much now.
In 71, I was the one in green utilities with the M-14. We were trained though and knowledgeable.
Excellent point EMichael and also helps explain why we got Reagan and Trump. Not that we did not have problems with generals and businessmen turned politicians, but the bottom line is you can have neither empathy nor intellect and still be a star and people vote for stars
The silent generation voted pretty all over the place until the the mid-70’s/early 80’s crime wave. This same wave effected the Generation Jones part of the Boomers/early Xers when they were growing up and becoming adults.
I did AF ROTC, commissioned in 1972, logistics, plans, supply. Summer of ’71 I did training at the east coast aerial port which received the KIA for the east half of the US. The stake trucks returning the empty aluminum coffins from the large morgue back to the air depot were a very common sight.
My first base was an airlift unit; heavies making the Vietnam run regularly. If war went on I would have been a support officer in Vietnam or Thailand.
War ended for all intents and purposes in Feb 1973. US left Thailand late 1975 or early 1976. I got in to the cold war side, which was going on during the warm period of Vietnam. Some defensive posts and some offensive in SAC.
I know veterans who served up to 1991 consider the defense and offense readiness duties as a specific service period, aka Cold War veterans.
I left active duty in 1982 stayed in the reserve because I could be useful if the big war happened. I retired from reserves in 2002, about 30 years total
In 1990 I got a bit of time in logistic plans in support of “desert shield” the mobilization for “desert storm”.
The impact of 9/11 was that I continued another year or so on the deployable lists. I had sent my ‘papers in’ about Sep of 2001.
I never left the technical side of the DoD I worked as a civilian employee of the Air Force doing systems acquisition, devising and developing sustainment policies and managing the set up of repair systems, in mostly strategic defensive technologies…….. radars, communications and controls.
I often thought of the Russian on the “other side” over the years.