The Vietnam War Was Already Lost, but I Had to Go Anyway


“In the summer of 1969, the first American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam. Their war was over, but mine was just beginning. The previous November, Richard M. Nixon had been elected president with a ‘secret plan’ to end the war. Surely peace was near. That same month I received my draft notice. About 24,000 of the more than 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam were yet to die. I didn’t want to be one of them. No one did. I had demonstrated against the war from the safety of my college deferment, so I thought of going to Canada. I also thought of getting a friendly doctor to say I had bone spurs or anxiety, but those choices would mean someone else from my refinery-town high school would have to go in my place. By the time I arrived in Vietnam a year later, the rate of troop withdrawals had increased. But in Paris the peace talks were proceeding at a glacial speed. Hundreds of Americans and thousands of Vietnamese had died while the diplomats argued about the shape of the table. I was flown out to a platoon in the foothills of the Truong Son mountains, near where the Ho Chi Minh Trail fed North Vietnamese troops and supplies into the northern provinces of South Vietnam. We circled a blasted hilltop still smoldering from enemy mortars. Gaunt, tanned Marines in ragged fatigues moved slowly as they went about their morning rituals, heating C-ration meals and welcoming security teams back from their night positions. Here’s what I wrote in a letter home back then: ‘I have 58 men. Only 20 have high school diplomas. Average age 19. Over and over I read: address of father: unknown; education: one or two years of high school; occupation: laborer, pecan sheller, gas station attendant, Job Corps. They had grown up in the ghetto or Appalachia or along the Rio Grande border or on a rez. Kids with no place to go. No place but here.’ They were expendable, and they knew it. I was the clueless 24-year-old second lieutenant who had been put in charge of them. They couldn’t care less that I had a fancy degree from Oxford. They didn’t want to know if I would help them win the war. They knew it was already lost. They were wondering, would I get them killed, or not? …”
NY Times (July 10, 2019)


About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
This entry was posted in Draft board, Henry Kissinger, Ho Chi Minh Trail, Nixon, Vietnam War and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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