Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day 2009

A good friend with whom I served in Southeast Asia (SEA) in 1968 and 1969, made, during a recent email conversation, an observation about many in the draftee Army of that era.

He wrote that many of the men with whom we served were draftees (as he was; I was RA and we were both enlisted) were upset about being drafted, being in the Army, and being in SEA. They resented that their lives and careers had not only been interrupted, but put on hold; that they had been placed in conditions that were at worst very dangerous and at best very miserable. Many, such as my friend, were college graduates who wanted to get on with the careers. Many had some college or technical school and wanted to complete their degree. Many were married or engaged and wanted to move on with their personal lives. They all had lives that markedly differed from the Army’s agenda.

However, my friend went on to write that the vast majority of those with whom he served no matter how much they hated the Army, hated being in it, hated being wherever they were, did a good job. The majority carried out their duties: applied the knowledge and training they received in AIT and combined that with their civilian education; followed orders; and performed their unit missions and MOS skills up to and frequently exceeding expectations. They did not like it, but they did their job.

Let me add a few comments to my friend's excellent observations; but, first two assumptions. First we are considering anecdotes of remembrance rather than a rigorous and broad scholarly study and thus conclusions must be tentative. Second, his observations accurately reflect my own recollections.

The characteristic of the American draftee who is upset that he was drafted and yet, once in the Army, performs well, often exceptionally well, and often returns home still feeling upset about being drafted in the first place and regretting what to him was a loss of two years of his life, has been long noted in studies of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. Most draftees did the job they were called to do. Many draftees later in life joined various veteran’s organizations (American Legion, VFW, and so on), and while still upset that they were drafted, still keep their family and friends laughing with all the stories of the “Mickey Mouse” of the Army and the bumbling incompetence of the “lifers”. Nevertheless, later in life, they stand tall on Veteran’s Day. When, for example, we buried Sergeant Titus Reynolds here last month, those were the men who turned out by the thousands to honor him, made up the honor guard that carried the National Colors, held small American flags along the two mile drive to the cemetery, rode their motor bikes in the procession, or saluted the hearse as it passed.

Generalizations must be made with care. Not all draftees during the Vietnam Era performed as those mentioned in the anecdote above. Not all Regular Army (RA) men and women were self-sacrificing. Just because a person technically qualifies as a “veteran” does not mean he or she is an exemplar of soldiery attributes. At the same time, one can neither ignore or forget the men and women who from Concord and Lexington to Kabul who have turned out, grumbling or not, and did what was expected of them.

Veteran’s Day is an international day of remembering in which we recall specific events,such as 11 November 1918, as well as all who served in our armed forces since then. It is the day, as Shakespeare wrote in Henry V, that old men roll up their sleeves and show their scars.


Kimberly J. said...

So, do you perhaps know it the Army has any records that state the capability of the soldiers that were drafted verses those that were not? I would think that it would be a mixed batch. Many men might not chose to join the Army; however, most men I would think would do their duty for their country. In some ways, I would think you might have gotten some that were better at it than they ever thought they would be and others that joined without any persuasion could have found out they were just not cut out to be a soldier, especially when it comes to combat. I would be especially interested to hear of whatever information sources you have on this since I find it to be a very interesting topic you have brought up here; moreover, I do wish everyone a "Happy Veterans Day"!

Robert Cook said...

My post called attention to the observation that Americans generally do what is asked of them, and to remember all Veterans (not just the famous, the prominent, or so-called heroes) on Veteran’s Day.

The Army of the Vietnam Era was, once inducted or enlisted, trained uniformly. Whether one was a draftee, an enlisted volunteer, a Guardsman, or a Reservist, every enlisted person went through Basic Training (about 8 weeks) and then through Advanced Individual Training (another 8 weeks) that was specific to the chosen or assigned Military Occupation Specialty (MOS). The instruction and standards at the various training centers were uniform.

The Selective Service System of that period was characterized by mandatory monthly quotas and a complex exemption and deferment system. Moreover, the Selective Service System was administered locally and standards varied from one board to another. The shortcomings of the Selective Service System has been long recognized and studied.

In the late 1960s, well before the Vietnam War ended, many in the Department of Defense, Congress, and the White House realized that there must be a better system for acquiring soldiers other than the Selective Service System. The result of those early task forces was the All Volunteer Army of 1973, which we still have today.

The historiography of the Vietnam War is quite large, but a good place to start for some of your questions is an online source:

Edwin E. Moïse, Vietnam War Bibliography

In the table contents find the entries “U. S. Military Men,” and “The Draft”. There you will find several excellent works that discuss the demographic issues of the Selective Service System in the 1960s and the transition to the All Volunteer Army. I especially call your attention to the series of Congressional Hearings listed under the entry, “The Draft” for they contain (or will direct you to) the aggregate statistics of comparison (to the extent that they exist) about which you ask.

Thank you for your observations and best of luck. Robert Cook