Being a High School graduate in 1969 brought change and challenge at every turn. The Viet Nam war was raging on and I was classified 1-A. I wasn’t going to join up, but if I got drafted I would do my time. There was a lottery system at that time and my number suggested that if the conflict continued, I would eventually get called up.
Guys my age thought of this every time they went to the mailbox. The sight of Selective Service on the return address, would make your pulse race and your heart drop. The letter inside would tell you that your life was about to be irreversibly changed.
I enrolled in college and for the next two years, I heard of fellas who had to drop out mid semester to answer the call. My envelope never came.
I continued my studies, met the girl of my dreams and was married by my junior year. Thank God, still no call. By my senior year, the conflict was all but over and guys were coming home.
Then an unexpected thing happened. I got the feeling that somehow I had shirked my responsibility. I felt guilty. Like I had cheated or something. I felt less than a man.
Guys from my neighborhood returned home. One of my best friends came home, but not really. Story was that the situation over there became too intense. He shot up something to help take the edge off. Circuits got fried, the brain got jumbled and when he came home, he wasn’t the same. He saw me on the street one day and wanted to go ride bikes and hang out like we were 13 again.
Over the years I lost track of him. But I never lost track of the guilt I had of not going. Now, don’t get me wrong. War is hell and I didn’t want any part of it…..still don’t. But who am I that I didn’t have to pay the price? Who am I that I didn’t have to spend sleepless nights on jungle patrol?
War changes everybody. Those who go and those who don’t.
Nowadays I don’t have those feelings with such intensity. But I still appreciate my brothers in uniform, those who gave it all and those who lost it all somewhere out there in some hut in the middle of a personal apocalypse. For those who got shot at and those who shot up, I’m your brother. I never wanted you to go it alone. Because your number came up first, mine didn’t have to. If to you, I’m worthy, I offer my thanks and my gratitude. Whatever burdens you still bear for the things you experienced, lean on me. Part of that weight belongs on my shoulders.
It always did.
Dedicated to Mike Crump and Don McPherson