What do you see out of your window today?

Viet Nam War Era

A story by Jean McGavin



I have four brothers. In 1968 that was a desperate situation. The Viet Nam War was raging and the draft was our greatest fear. Two of my brothers were draft bait, the others were too young for the draft for the near future. This time was one of deep deep disturbance. Madmen were using assassination rather than voting booths to make change. John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr, Lee Harvey Oswald, Malcolm X, George Wallace, George Lincoln Rockwell, college students working for civil rights, little black girls and their mothers in church, saints and sinners alike were in the sights of men with guns in their hands, hate and a political agenda in their hearts. The Viet Nam War dragged tens of thousands of young men into these sights when few of those young men, and fewer of their mothers, knew why they were being asked to sacrifice their lives. This became the focus of the clash between a generation that had been brave and proud and did their duty when the world faced calamity at the hands of other sinners in 1940 and a generation that wanted to be brave and proud and do their duty in search of peace not war. When my oldest brother graduated from college and his college deferment ended he had few choices. He could leave the country and face the possibility of never being allowed to return. He could join the National Guard, he could attempt to become a conscientious objector, or possibly find some ailment for which he could be deferred. As I understand the story, he received his draft notice, put it in his pocket and enlisted. Enlisting cut his time in the army from 2 years to 18 months. I don’t know how my brother felt. I know that he told my mother on his way to ship out to Viet Nam that he did not think he could kill another person and I know that my mother felt that his shipping out was killing her. We were so fortunate that both my brother and my mother survived. My other brother joined the National Guard and thus avoided Viet Nam but found himself on the wrong side of his own politics on May Day 1971 when he was called upon to protect Washington, D.C. from anti-war protestors. He was a student at George Washington University where protests filled the streets and cars were overturned, helicopters landed on the dormitories, fires were set and thousands of those afraid of the draft and the war were imprisoned in RFK Stadium for frantically, desperately seeking to end the war. My brother would much rather have been the prisoner than the guard. My younger brothers, by virtue of their age, were spared the choices, the fear, the sound of guns, the sight of blood and the anguish of our mother. When I was in college, the draft system was changed. A lottery system based on birthday was instituted. I had a friend working in the college radio station and several of us gathered there to listen to the lottery numbers 1-365 were announced with their corresponding day of the year. As I recall the first 175 numbers could expect to be called up. We waited with worry and baited breath to hear the birthdays of our friends and were relieved that, by the simple grace of chance, they all had high numbers. Then, in 1975, we abandoned Viet Nam to the Viet Cong and the sky did not fall and Communism did not overtake all of Asia and today tourists lie on the beaches of Viet Nam. In 1978, just a few years after the war was over, I dated the son of a Georgia sharecropper. He had enlisted to see the world when the war was not a war but a police operation, early in our involvement in Viet Nam. He had large shrapnel and bullet scars on his back and legs and 2 Purple Hearts. He had been lucky to survive, not lucky to have been shot. One of his Purple Hearts resulted from an incident of friendly fire when his company was trapped and American helicopters coming to rescue them, shot them rather than the enemy. He survived, many of his buddies did not.

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 assassination,Conscientious Objector,generation gap,May Day 1971,National Guard,Purple Heart
  Arlington, VA
Jan 01 1970


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