Fifty years ago this week I went down to my local draft board to register. I had turned 18 and that’s what we all did (1). The Vietnam War was in full bloom, Nixon had been elected the year before, and they were drafting about 3/4 of all the eligible men every year. I was a college sophomore in good standing, so I had an S-1 student deferment. That meant I wouldn’t be drafted until I graduated or flunked out, whichever came first.
For me and of of my friends, staying out of the army, and therefore staying out of Vietnam, was a high priority. It meant staying alive. What none of us realized at the time was how many men who survived and came home would be injured and damaged in many ways that would persist for much of their lives. Or that many of the lucky ones, who were never injured, had careers or education interrupted and never quite got back on track.
So I find it unbelievably ironic that I’m spending my birthday, exactly 50 years later, traveling from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. I never wanted to come here. Certainly not during the war, but not as a tourist either. It’s all Sally’s idea, and we’re both having a great time (2). But I can’t stop thinking about what might have been.
(1) Not the girls, of course. Getting blown up was men’s work back then.
(2) Despite the Ginger Cruise.