Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.
- See second column – Are We Really Old? – here.
- See third column – Cars and More Cars – here.
- See fourth column – Getting Educated – here.
- See fifth column – Home Alone? – here.
- See sixth column – Death – here.
- See seventh column – They’re Playing Our Song – here.
- See eighth column – Driving: Knowing When To Quit – here.
- See ninth column – Hobbies: What’s Your Favorite – here.
- See 10th column – ‘The Last of Life, for which the First was Made’ – here.
- See 11th column – Volunteeering – here.
- See 12th column – Duck and Cover – here.
- See 13th column – Providing for the Future – here.
- See 14th column – Here We Go Wandering… – here.
- See 15th column – State of Schools – here.
By Steve Canipe
May 2, 2014. Does each generation have its very own war that it can claim? Our parents had World War II and Korea. Our grandparents had World I. So how did we get our war- aka Viet Nam?
I happened to be listening to some Peter, Paul, and Mary songs and many of them were really protest songs about this war. It started me thinking about our war in Viet Nam. The United States was in the midst of the Cold War and we were really fighting mostly the Soviet Union and to a lesser extent the People’s Republic of China or at least their surrogates.
The war began in the middle 1950’s, when the oldest of we Boomers were barely in elementary school. This undeclared war continued until 1975. This was during the time that many Boomers were in high school or college. For those men (and only for men) there was a registration required. It was commonly called the draft.
To jog the memory of some of you and maybe re-educate others of you, there was a number and letter assigned to each young man when he registered at age 18. If you got a letter from your local Selective Services Board it said something like you need to report to xxx for a physical preparatory to your impending induction to the military. There were also threats for failure to abide by this “request.” See actual sample letters here.
There were various classifications that allowed the local boards to determine to whom letters needed to sent. If a man were still in high school, he would have a classification of 1S. If the man went to college, at least through 1971 when this classification stopped, the classification changed to 2S. Upon graduation from high school, and with no other study undertaken, the classification became 1A – available for unlimited military service. Upon graduation from college, whether further study was planned or not, the classification became 1A.
I speak from personal experience of being 1S, 2S, and then 1A. I graduated from college in 1968. This was during the massive build up of troops in Viet Nam. This was, at Appalachian, the time of single sex dorms and in the men’s dorms there were near constant bull sessions about the war and what would we do if we were drafted. As we got to be seniors, it became really personal as we were soon to be 1A. Some of my classmates explored the option of moving to Canada; others supposedly figured out ways to raise blood pressures and not medically qualify. There was much talk of numerous things. Much of the talk was probably nervous chatter; I don’t know of anyone who actually went to Canada although in the US about 30 to 40 thousand, by one estimate, did migrate there.
It was this 18 age requirement for being drafted and dying that caused considerable consternation, as it was not legal to vote for those being sent off where they might die. You could buy beer at eighteen but couldn’t vote until twenty-one.
I was a high school science teacher and, because of several factors, I suppose among them being a teacher and a male, my draft board decided that I deserved a reclassification to 2A, which was a non-agricultural civilian job. What this did was extend my normal age for being drafted from 26 one additional year for each year of the deferment at 2A.
In 1969, because of all the issues with draft protests, burning draft cards, violent college actions, favoritism, etc. the government decided to make it fairer; it would institute a draft lottery system. It was done like playing bingo, except in this case, 366 chips were placed in a large spinner and pulled one at a time. Every male who was of eligible age probably knows his number to this day — mine is #194. You can see all the numbers here, should you have forgotten or been young enough that the draft did not apply. This particular chart only applies for men born 1944-1950. If you were born in years other than 1944-1950, your lottery chart dates are different!! I suppose this was to prevent parents trying to have their male children on 8 June which was number 366.
In April 1975, the selective service registration requirement was stopped. This was rather short-lived and in 1980 President Carter reinstituted the required registration after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This was when the Soviets had their try at fixing this mountainous country. Now after about 14 years, we have had our turn and everything is pretty much as it was before either the Soviets or the Americans went into the country. This is the war of our children and maybe our grandchildren. Fortunately it is a war having less causalities than Viet Nam. The loss of life and the injuries are still terrible.
Feelings still run high among some people who lived through these “Nam” times. My listening to Peter, Paul, and Mary’s Where Have All the Flowers Gone, made me remember friends who went and some who did not come home whole. The losses were part of over 58 thousand others who died; over 153 thousand who were injured, and more than 1,600 who are still classified as missing. The poignant Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, DC is so moving for me having been a Viet Nam era young man; it causes deep feelings especially when I see my peer group (now all older men) who served kneeling at the wall and paying homage to a fallen comrade. Sometimes they just stand and stare at the wall as if reliving some unimaginable horror.
If all war is hell, then this one was at a depth of despair unknown, at least to me. Not only did those who fought experience terrible conditions in country, when they returned to this country, they were despised and reviled; totally unlike the hero’s welcome we give those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m not saying we should not honor these young soldiers today but each of them volunteered to be in the military; in “our war,” we were given no choice about going! Had I been called to go and fight in Viet Nam and had received such treatment on my return to America, I would have been deeply hurt by that kind of reception and very angry.
Let me hear from you about your thoughts on our war, the draft, and what was done wrong and what was done right. How do you feel about the current wars that our children have fought and are fighting? Send your thoughts, either via email at [email protected] or post them at the end of the column. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.