What about all the draft stuff we hear about in history? How did that feel?
It sucked royally. And it was scary. You could watch the war on the news and get updated casualty figures twice (6pm and 11pm) almost every night. (That was before the era of embedding news reporters and sanitizing the news stories.)
And you could also talk to the people that made it back.
I never met anybody
, including my conservative pro-American relatives who served over there, who ever had anything much good to say about that war. Or their own involvement in it. My cousin (USMC) summed it up in a letter to his folks by saying, "It's going to be ok. We don't kid ourselves over here. We aren't fighting for Uncle Sam, or Van Thieu. We're fighting for each other.
At least until the big guys back home figure out what they want us to do. When they do, it gets pretty busy for us. But most days, we just do what we can to keep each other alive long enough for them to send us back home."
I kept a copy of that letter in my wallet and used to read it to people when they said that "at least the people brave enough to serve" believed in what we were doing over there. (I still have it too!)
Somewhere around 58,000 didn't make it back. And well over 300,000 came home wounded. Many never got the medical or other benefits they had been promised. That's because superpower America had effectively lost its war against an army composed of farmers and other rural types. And we were embarrassed by it. So when it was over, the country mostly wanted to forget as quickly as possible that there ever was a place called Viet Nam.
And it never seemed a noble or inspirational war either. The news footage that came back was gritty and disturbing. Nothing like the glorious and grand thing we had been brought up to see war as when we were kids. In fact, it all looked rather ugly. Especially when the footage showed uprooted villagers and wounded civilians. This sickening photo
was one of the most famous taken during the war. WARNING
: it's still a very upsetting image. Viewer discretion is strongly advised.) There's plenty more like it you can find by Googling assuming you have the stomach for that sort of thing.
Adding to our overall disgust was also the little problem of explaining exactly what we were doing there
. None of us (including half the people in government) seemed to have any idea why we were fighting. There were the usual "fighting communism" and "protecting freedom" arguments. But they had an oddly hollow ring to them compared to WWII, where it was painfully clear to everyone why we not only had to fight, but also win that war. (It took the Pentagon Papers leak to get to the real story behind our involvement.)
I was lucky. I was young enough to get a draft card (1A status) very shortly before they finally suspended the draft. Two years later, almost to the day, President Gerald Ford announced the US was officially out of Viet Nam. My cousin's outfit was among the last Marine units to leave in late April 1975. We didn't find out that he made it out alive and unhurt until almost a week later...
Those are my main memories of Viet Nam and the draft.
Note: some years after the war, the government Viet Nam acknowledged an estimated 4 million civilian casualties (dead/wounded) and approximately 1 million military dead and 600,000 wounded for both sides between 1955 and 1975.
Note 2: The United States first became involved in Viet Nam in 1950 when it began sending military and intelligence "advisers" to the French colonial government. The US did not send obviously military personnel (still classed as advisers) to Viet Nam until 1961-62. Actual U.S. military combat units were first deployed in 1965, which marked what most consider the official beginning of what came to be called the Viet Nam War. So although the US government liked to claim it's troops were only in Viet Nam for about 10 years, in truth they were there in some capacity for nearly 20 - and were involved in direct military combat operations for most of them.