I never made use the opportunity to prove my patriotism and risk my life for my country. Coming of age during the Vietnam era meant making some difficult choices for all of us who were ripe for the picking. The first draft lottery was held during my senior year in college and I had the bad luck in that lottery to draw a low number. A low number was the kiss of death. A low number meant your odds of being drafted into the army, and ultimately sent to Vietnam, were heavily in the army's favor. My number was 88. They passed that number by mid February.
For the remainder of my senior year, everything I did or thought was influenced by my draft status. Plans were made and rejected, then made again when a new idea crawled into the void left by the previous untenable plan. It was a time of anxious uncertainty. On the one hand I wanted to run away and not be found until that stupid war was over. On the other hand I wanted to prove my patriotism and serve the country that I truly love. But I just couldn't get past the fear of being sent to a war zone on the other side of the world, risking my life for an unjust cause that was decimating my generation. I knew a few young men who went there and met that fearsome horrible fate that sent them home lifeless, bringing tragedy and sorrow, mournful questions and disbelief, and family emptiness and anger as pallbearers. Although none of my friends or close acquaintances suffered that fate, I knew from a distance many young men who did, and was torn apart inside when one more fell from an unseen enemy's bullet.
I finally resolved to join the Army Reserve as a way of, hopefully, avoiding being drafted. At the time, finding a reserve unit that had an opening for one more draft avoider was difficult because so many of us were standing in line to get that spot on the roster. But I got lucky and found my new military home in the reserve unit in Sheboygan. I drove to Sheboygan from Madison on graduation day, passing up that ceremony to raise my right hand to swear to defend my country in a far simpler ceremony.
Obviously my plan worked. I never even came close to Vietnam. I served my 6 year obligation And added 2 more years on top of that before I was done with the army and my beloved country was done with that hideously wasteful war.
My feelings of guilt or not getting into the jungle, dodging bullets and bombs, and suffering the through that tortuous time, have kept me away from visiting the Vietnam Memorial. I know I would be shedding uncontrollable tears as I read the names of those who earned their place on that granite slab by making the ultimate sacrifice for their country. I honor their bravery with my tears. I cry tears that I hope would rinse away the waste of a generation, I assuage my guilt with my tears, and hold the utmost respect in my heart for those fallen heroes. I'm grateful that my name isn't etched in granite alongside those enshrined there. I am grateful that so many were willing and able to do their duty so that I could continue on with my life. I will never forget those boys (for many of them were just boys) who became men forged in the crucible of war.
I will never forget.