Vietnam Memories

By Lloyd Graff

Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC

It’s Memorial Day 2014 as I write this piece, and for most people it’s a day of barbecues and softball games. For me, it’s still about Vietnam and memories.

And I didn’t even go.

Vietnam was my war. My horror.

And I didn’t even go.

But my friends and classmates went. Some died there or in the skies over Laos. I check for their names when I visit the stunning Vietnam War Memorial in Washington.

I do not apologize for not going to war. I signed up for the Illinois National Guard. I knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody and moved up on the Guard waiting list, though I would have gotten into the Army Reserves without the connections.

It was a crazy time 1967-68. Dan Rather was announcing the weekly casualty figures on the CBS Evening News, seemingly every night. The country was divided over the War. Young people were volunteering, demonstrating, moving to Canada. Some were paralyzed, ambivalent or numbed from drugs or booze.

I was pretty sure I was going to die in Nam if I got sent there, so I was committed to not getting sent there.

My war was spent at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina – 137 days of green uniforms, crappy food, getting in shape, and dealing with psychological warfare from a belligerent shrimp of a drill sergeant who was determined to make the life of the one Guardsman in a company of 300 men as miserable as he could.

After bootcamp, the rest of my six-year Guard commitment was spent writing lesson plans for training that was never given and two week stints in the summer at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, pretending to fire Howitzers.

The Vietnam War came to an ignominious end with 58,000 Americans dead, including some of those good guys I trained with at Fort Jackson, along with many, many wounded veterans.

I think of those guys every Memorial Day. I don’t do the parades and I’m no pacifist, but I don’t want to glorify war.

I saw that the President, in his perfectly tailored bomber jacket, snuck into Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan yesterday to congratulate himself on winding down the war there.

My wife recently got a communication from a sweet young guy who joined the Marine Corps and was just shipped to Afghanistan. She had helped him pass the test to get into the Corps.

Jack, just be safe over there. Don’t be a hero. Get back healthy. I don’t want to have to think about you on Memorial Day.

Question:  Would you encourage military service for your child, sibling or friend?

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46 thoughts on “Vietnam Memories

  1. Dave J

    I see you had to get your dig in on the President. What in the world did that even have to do with this article??? My guess is that you wouldn’t even go for a visit.

    1. Josh

      Because it was deserved. Obama won a peace prize and has escalated the war while simultaneously claiming to be ending it. Unbeknownst to many we are actually “at war” in 75 countries at least across the globe, thanks to the peace prize president. Obama has no problem assassinating US citizens with out due process, one of which was a 15 year old boy who’s only crime against the US was being his father’s son. Lloyd has given Obama due credit on several occasions only to be attacked by 90% of the comment givers around here. I guess he’s darned if he does, darned if he doesn’t. And by the way, I’m a guy who leans more left than right and voted for Obama, good lord I wish I hadn’t. Republicans and Democrats can all go jump in a lake.

      1. Bill

        I usualy agree with you , but Obama has wound down two wars during his years, kept us out ofg Syria , Iran, the Ukraine., all with the opposition scraming that he is weak and leading from behind…. Say what what you will but try and see the big picture.

      2. Josh

        Bill, I can’t deny that but his actions have lead to what is basically a shadow war behind the scenes where JSOC is running amok across the globe creating thousands and thousands of new enemies of the US. He also believes he has the authority to execute Americans without process of law. I cannot abide by that. I don’t disagree with everything he does, that’s for sure but certain issues are a deal breaker for me.

  2. Stan Lightner

    In a word no. I have advised younger individuals to stay clear of the military as I do not want anyone else to experience PTSD as I have. One way to easily get on my bad side is to speak of the “glory” or “honor” of serving in a war zone, especially if the speaker never served a day in his/her life. Hogwash is the printable word I’ll use. I quickly shut down my Baptist preacher brother’s nonsense who never served by letting him know I do not believe there is a legitimate connection between Christianity, war and the military. He’s only brought it up once in several years and my reaction was quite similar, so I suspect he will be extra careful in the future.

  3. Jim Donovan

    I think every man and woman should serve two years in the military or the peace corp with no wages since you get three meals a day and a place to sleep as well as the clothes on your back. It matures a person real fast and you appreciate an education more than ever. How can you be a good Commander and Chief if you have not seen and been in the same shoes as the people you command.

    Yes, I was in the Army (1965 to 1967) and they were not my favorite years of my life but I was better for it because I know what it was like having a someone with very little education telling me what to do in a life and death situation.

    1. Ron B

      … and you think everyone would be better for it… and the only qualified to serve as POTUS are people who have been traumatized by war… and where again does that lead us?

    2. Emily

      I like that you mentioned two years in the service OR the Peace Corps. I served in the Peace Corps in West Africa and know it is the type of experience many of our young people would benefit from. You don’t have to go shooting guns at people to get perspective on our luck at being born American and learn discipline and how to do without. It saddens me that our Peace Corps volunteers are left out of “Service” mentions. If Veterans think their sacrifice is easily forgotten and often overlooked, try being a Peace Corps volunteer.

  4. Art

    What is the old saying? Freedom is not cheap. I am a very proud father of a soldier boy. My heart was on pins and needles when he was doing a tour in Iraq. Thankfully he returned in one piece but I will never question why he is serving, he is a 4.0 GPA student with 2 degrees but some how he has it in him to defend this country as his top priority. I am just grateful that I am enjoying what I have from the sacrifices of people like my boy. And I know I will never repay those who gave their life for this country and for the likes of me. So if you love your freedom and the USA; thank a soldier.

    1. Josh

      And can you tell me exactly what the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had to do with freedom exactly? I’ve had a hard time figuring that out for over a decade now. Much respect for your son, our service members are by and large outstanding young men and women. That said, they are deployed by a bunch of disconnected bureaucrats looking to line their pockets who are unconcerned with our freedom as evidenced by the laws they pass to restrict it more so every year. I’ll always thank a soldier for their service, because they don’t get to decide where and how they are deployed, but Iraq/Afghanistan had nothing to do with “freedom.”

  5. Ron B

    58,000 Americans dead… and what did we accomplish again? We have a war going on right here in the states… the plea from the father of the recent California campus shooting spree left me fired-up… I too have had enough with nut-case spoiled kids (see Sandy Hook) murdering our young citizens. How does ‘the right to bear arms’ supersede ‘life, liberty and happiness’… someone please ask that dad which he would prefer… you know the one calling politicians gutless bastards. New policy, politicians and political voices in support of military action… must lead the way… with there children in tow. We could start with ‘Joe The Plumber’.

    1. Gary C

      Don’t forget that half the people that were killed were murdered with a knife. Most of the injured were hit with his car. Guns are an issue in the hands of the wrong people. But a crazy individual intent on taking life will find a way with or without a gun.

      1. Ron B

        Good point Gary… but you can (possibly) run from a knife or dive from a car… only Superman is quicker than a bullet… and he’s for sensible gun laws!

      2. Gary C

        I suppose you can run from a knife, if you know it’s coming and you run faster than the attacker. I guess the 3 men that lost their lives weren’t on the UCSB track team.

  6. clayton

    He also serves who only stands and waits!
    Clayton Smith 1LT O.C.S. Army (“retired” as soon they would let my ass out – smile)

  7. Don VanHoosier

    Hitler’s first move to take over was to disarm normal citizens and look at how that ended. My ancestors came from Germany to flee Hitler as his movement progressed . We’ll at least that is what they called it at the beginning. My right to bear arms trumps all else , as my right to freedom will always be insured against tyranny. Most tyrants make the first move to disarm everyone but the military.

    1. Eric

      They tried taking guns away from everyone in Queensland… crime shot up 40% overnight. All you do with gun control is weaken the law abiding citizens!!!! Wake up people!

    2. Ron B

      Well, if Hitler ever did something we sure wouldn’t want to try that… if he ever kissed his mom we should make it a law to stop it! I’m pretty tired of the ‘Hitler’ comparisons. It would seem that the pro-gun people just do not understand (or don’t want to) equate gun control laws with the right to bear arms. There are limits to be considered… you cannot own an anti-aircraft missile… if you have a violent criminal history you cannot own a AK-47. These are sensible forms of (here comes those bad words) ‘gun control’ (as opposed to ‘out of control’). Jeez!

      1. Brian

        Read the constitution Ron – our right as citizens to bear arms shall not be infringed upon. Was written by greater men than all of us. If you do not like it here move to the middle east and proclaim you are for whatever they are against. See how long you live………..

        Oh and by the way the constitution does not say we citizens can not have anti-aircraft missiles……..

        Ron I am a citizen not a subject.

  8. Don VanHoosier

    I forgot to add that my son is a Marine , Special Ops , and I couldn’t be more proud . He chooses to defend our country , since he was eight years old that is all he ever wanted, to be a Marine . Thanks to all who have served and to all who have perished defending this country !

  9. Don

    I served in the Navy, was activated as a Reservist to go to the Persian Gulf for Desert Storm, my 2 sons currently serve, the youngest in the Navy, the older in the Air Guard. I couldn’t be prouder.
    I’m reminded of a couple of quotations by men far greater than am:

    First: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. ”

    As well as: “They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

    It seems surreal to read all the angry anti-gun rhetoric under a blog about Memorial Day, I suppose I should remind you that my rights under the 2nd guarantees your rights under the 1st. Both were earned and are protected by bold men with guns.

  10. Joseph

    I’m 46 years old, so I have no real memories of Vietnam. I was regular Army from 1987 – 1991 and served in the first Gulf War. Some folks have quite bitter experiences, but I will say the truth as I see it.
    There is honor in serving. Without the long green line of soldiers extending from the birth of our country to the present, we would not exist. People forget what it is like to truly be under a threat.
    Talk to someone who lived through WWII. Up until late 1943, we were losing, with German U-boats sinking ships within site of the Eastern seaboard. People lived under a cloud of fear in the US.
    Vietnam was seminal event for Baby-Boomers. Despite the fact that US never lost a single major battle (and North Vietnam conquered the south years after all US combat forces left), Vietnam was a devastating loss for the US that we still pay for today. The enemies of the US all point to this war and say that the US is incapable of commitment.
    We all remember the terrorist attack of September 11, but do we remember it properly? It nearly destroyed the airline industry and caused billions in losses and an untold number of jobs; this was the work of a handful of men.
    There will always be evil in this world, with people willing to take what somebody else has – property, land, and/or life. Somebody has to demonstrate a willingness to risk life and limb to defend our nation and our people. I was proud to be a soldier, and I honor those who wear the uniform. As for glory? Hell yes there is. I was led by an old lifer of a platoon sergeant who would do anything, and I mean anything to bring back every single one of his boys. And he wasn’t the only one. Read the transcript of an award of the Medal of Honor. I see men who I would have followed, but I don’t know if I could have ever led the way they did. So I honor them, and I most certainly think they are deserving of glory.
    We have found ourselves saddled with poor civilian leadership in warfare. We have had presidents that don’t understand when to take up arms and why, how to lead a country into war, how to maintain focus on objectives and know when they have been completed, have become irrelevant or maybe impossible to achieve. But that takes nothing away from the nature of service.
    For my Vietnam era brethren, I think the politics and society of the times have badly scarred many vets beyond the effects of warfare itself. Warfare is brutish and nasty, and chews up soldiers, mentally emotionally, and physically. It’s a national shame that men returned from risking their lives to public abuse and denigration from ungrateful clowns who were able to sleep safe at night because of the very men they were spitting on.
    I salute all veterans.

  11. RTL

    Well at least your honest about how you dodged the draft. I can still remember waking up in my bed at home the morning I left for Ft. Lewis to go over and thinking that I might never see that place again. Sobering thought for people as young as most of us were. I was lucky and spent my year in the rear with the gear and never had to hump the bush like so many of my friend’s did. I have the utmost respect for the Iraq/Afghanistan vets but think we have forgotten the lesson I had hoped we learned in Nam about the futility of fighting a war based solely on body counts and trying to win the hearts and minds of a populace that view us as invaders not saviors. Add in the religious aspect of most of the conflicts in the world today and that adds up to a real fubar.

  12. Peter

    You bet! I am proud of my service. I am a Desert Storm Vet. All of my children are concidering the military after high school. I do not push or try to convince them, it has to be their decision. However I would be proud for them to serve or not as they wish.

  13. Greg MacPherson

    i was too young for Vietnam by a couple of years & too old for the next go round. But I had friends there & my Uncle “Dick” Jernee with the Marines. He was legend in our family as he had already survived the Chosin Reservoir fight in Korea. Then 3 tours in Vietnam as a sniper & sniper instructor. My Dad also spent time in Korea in a MASH unit & you could tell that it affected him most of the rest of his life, as it did my uncle. Still – another uncle served in the Navy as did two of my brothers (Air Force & Marines-lifer of course!) and a sister (Army), all in Desert Storm & now 2 nephews who grew up on bases around the country/world & still went straight into the Marines & Iraq/Afghanistan then one back as a contractor with a few more trips to Afghanistan. My wife’s family served just as often across many generations also. It’s not an easy life – but they all have something I don’t have & won’t have & can’t get tending the home fires & backing them up when they deployed. Those who served know what i mean – the rest of us will just have to take it on faith. None ever regretted their decision in the long haul to join (depending on who was doing the yelling no doubt), but they appreciate peace as much as they are ready to still fight for freedom. I keep a U.S. flag flying at home 24/7/365 for all of them & they do check when they get by this way just to be sure it’s still flying.

  14. Robert Arthur

    made me sick to see Obama in his bomber jacket. He’s a fraud. I’m embarrassed that “working” voters don’t out-number “non-working” voters. How else does Obama get elected ?

    1. Bill

      He got elected by working middle and lower class folks because thats who he represents. For you to think that non-workers outnumber the workers is just plain stupid!

  15. jd

    How could we ever hope to explain to a visitor from another planet as to why we have so many weapons and continue to kill one another??

    1. Jack

      If we have a visitor from another planet they will probably have better weapons than we do.

  16. Ed

    As someone who served, I recommend Military Service for ALL young people. You will forge bonds with others that I don’t see in the civilian world. With military service our elected officials would understand that they are not the ruling elite as they appear, but would know that they are where they are to serve the PEOPLE. I also believe we would be less likely to involve the military if the voters didn’t think of soldiers the way they think about the person who does the unpleasant task of taking the trash away from the end of the driveway.

  17. Jerry Johnson

    Military Service should be a prerequisite, Constitutional requirement before anyone can run for election as Commander and Chief.

    As a matter of fact, they should also be required to have previous job experience.

    1. Stan Lightner

      I cannot disagree more strongly. If the government was run by ex-military we would have a large number who have PTSD and another group of cowboys who never saw a war they didn’t like. I’ve been to countries run by the military and could not get out of there fast enough. As a group they censored the news media, imposed martial law, and lined their pockets with bribes.

      BTW, just in case someone is wondering I was honorably discharged as a Petty Officer Second Class (E-5) after four years of active duty that included two tours. One started as a “peace time” deployment that turned quite the opposite and the second one was a peace time WESTPAC.

    2. Terry Williams

      Adolph Hitler had previous military experience before he became “Commander in Chief”…that didn’t work out very well for Germany. Come to think of it, it didn’t work out for well for a lot of people.

  18. allen

    The world’s still a dangerous place Lloyd and the people who make it dangerous have a habit of not listening to thoughtful criticism and artful compromise. More forceful means, history makes clear, are necessary to deter those people.

    That being the case those among us not able to defend what’s good, that the evil would destroy, have to hope that those who are able to defend us are willing to do the ugly, but necessary, job. I don’t think it’s glorifying war to display some gratitude to those who have made sacrifices in the common defense.

    It’s certainly possible to go too far in that direction, and turn gratitude into a political sideshow to the benefit of the politicians making the speeches, but going too far in the other direction’s hardly the morally elevated-position it’s purported to be. Rather the opposite since it inevitably becomes a chest-thumping display of opposition to even self-defense the purpose of which is to fill those doing the chest-thumping with self-righteous indignation.

    Unfortunately, just as wishful thinking won’t cut a thread neither will indignation stop an assailant. For both those tasks hard, sharp implements wielded by those who know how to use them, and why, are the only response.

  19. Robert

    Obama’s visit happen to correspond with the VA scandal. How coincidental. There is nothing he does that is not scripted politically. There should have been a “Mission Accomplished” sign on display during his political speech, but wait, thousands of troops will remain after the pull out.

  20. Brian

    Stan L., Clayton, Jim D., Don V. Don, Joseph, RTL, Peter & Ed: Thank you for serving our country by being solders. I am truly grateful that there are citizens like yourselves who are willing to put your country and fellow citizens above your own freedoms. You were all committed to pay the ultimate price if necessary to defend us and our country. To think what the American Solder has done for our world is amazing & the freedoms that created America flow thru your service. God Bless You!

  21. Dick Crosby

    How about a good study of Switzerlands’ policys re. guns and military service. I Think It’s two years of obligatory military service, and every citizen – men and women- have to become familiar with AK-47’s, or similar, and own one.
    Don’t mess with the Swiss! (Or Texas.) An amazing people!
    Ultimately (and not very far down the road), I believe, Obama, and the rest of his socialistic leaning, motley crew, including some of our gutless members of congress, will go down in history, as the worst controllers of our American condition and values to date.
    Unless the bulk of the American voting public gets their heads out of their rectums, and turns the direction of this country around, we are doomed to repeat every socialistic society’s failure in the 6,000 years of recorded history of the world.
    It’s a failed philosophy. Always has been. Always will be. The non-producers can’t forever take (or be given), from the producers and expect the result to be a good one for either group.
    I’m 81. I fear for my kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids, who have no idea what it’s like to live in a relatively peaceful world, like I did, after WWII, even with the cold war.

  22. Chris G

    The glory of war is usually written by those who have never fought.

    “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.”

    ~Joseph Goebbels
    I hate it when they say, ‘He gave his life for his country.’ They don’t die for the honor and glory of their country. We kill them.

    ~Rear Admiral Gene R. LaRocque
    Service personnel are nothing but cannon fodder for the political and economic elite. “Diplomacy” through a barrel of gun always fails. Fighting for the sake border security, YES. Fighting because this and past presidents need to keep the military welfare machine going, F*** No…


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