Thank a Veteran - Today and Every Day
I was born in 1965. Vietnam surrounded my entrance into this world. My parents were young, 20, getting married just a year earlier in 1964. My father has since passed away, so I can’t ask him, but I have often wondered if one of his incentives to hastily elope with my mother was to avoid the draft.
I confess that despite being brought up in the height of the Vietnam War, I didn’t really know too much about it. We didn’t seem to learn about Vietnam in high school or at least I don’t remember if we did. I didn’t have any family members who were drafted so it wasn’t in my direct radar. Only recently have I discovered that my Uncle Bobby, my father’s brother, was part of the lottery system that began at the end of 1969. He received a high number and told me that it was the only lottery he ever won.
A high number meant you weren’t to be drafted.
I admit that I am grossly ill-informed about the military, war, and our amazing men and women who serve. My Grandfather, Herbie, was drafted in WWII, so we grew up with this in the background of our lives, but when it came to the Vietnam confrontation, my age, and my indirect connection with actual men getting drafted, I was left unmindful.
All I really remember were my parents watching it on their small black and white portable tv, bunny ear antennas poking out from the top, as we ate dinner together.
The evening meal with the family was held hostage by news reports from Walter Cronkite.
We watched during the lifespan of the war close to 60,000 body bags make their way back to our country that sent them to a war we never should have been in the first place.
Many remains were never recovered.
Vietnam may have been the backdrop to my childhood, but my life was barely impacted by it. I went on with my days, school, playing outside, hula hooping and bike riding around the neighborhood, waiting for my baby brother to arrive in 1970 and excited to be a big sister. (photo is my brother and me in 1973)
I was only 9 when the Vietnam war ended, President Nixon resigned and my greatest childhood memory of the Watergate trials was the continuous interruption of after school cartoons because there was no cable or streaming. Three channels to choose from and they all were showing the Watergate trials because it was THE news.
When my son, Michael, was born, we were living in a relatively calm time, war seemed like something that happened in the past. However, all of this changed on September 11th. Michael was only three at the time and I remember feeling a sense of selfish relief that he was a long way off from being drafted. My inability to wrap my head around having a child go to war whether voluntarily or involuntarily was dominant.
I know that the draft ended after Vietnam, but I always thought if the government was capable of doing a draft before, why wouldn't they do this again if needed?
Later on, when Michael was headed to college, my two friends' sons joined the military. One headed to the Marines and the other, one of my son’s best friends, made his dream come true of getting into Annapolis where he has since graduated and is now an Officer. The swelling pride for these two young men makes me cry every time I think of them and their sacrifices that they chose for themselves.
Because they were able make that choice for themselves. I am a grateful citizen because of the men and women who decide to take this path as their careers.
photo of Jacob and Michael as kids then and Naval Officer Jacob Ramos now.
I began dating my current partner, also Michael, over ten years ago. He is eighteen years my senior, and grew up in a neighborhood where drafting for Vietnam was prevalent. I was re-introduced to Vietnam as I was thrust into the middle of his childhood friend group, many, more than not, were drafted. (photo is of him in Vietnam, he's the one on the far right, only 21)
It was 1968, before the lottery; they were 21 years old. At the beginning of their lives, growing up in Federal Hill, Providence RI. Many did not have college as their trajectory and drafts loved non college, non married young men.
We chuckle often about how apparent our age difference is when we talk about that time in the world. He was headed to Vietnam, leaving his neighborhood, his comfort zone, headed to a place he barely understood its location. I was four and headed to Temple Beth El Nursery School. Sounds sort of creepy, but of course age differences are very different the younger we are.
The privilege of being his partner this last ten years has taught me so much, especially about his experience in Vietnam. The connection and bond that he and his friends still have, what they went through, how they came out alive, on the other side. Using the GI bill to attend college, get their Masters, have fulfilling lives, fulfilling relationships. Miraculous, really.
So many were not this lucky.
Not only from their neighborhood life, but the unjust war they had to fight for their country whether they wanted to or not. I can’t even imagine this.
I cried like a baby when my son moved out of my house last month to his condominium only 30 minutes away! I kept saying (between uncontrollable sobs) to Michael, What did Agnes do when you were drafted? His mother, Agnes, a young widow to boot, must have been beside herself when she had to send her 21 year old boy off to Vietnam.
What did it feel like when she read the letter from our government that simply said, Greeting: followed by an order to report.
Michael would be drafted to The 25th Infantry Division in the U.S Army. On his way to Vietnam, he passed his friend, Danny, just coming home. One of the millions of small and big stories living within our veterans.
Michael standing with his childhood friend and still great friends, Danny Evangelista, who also served in Vietnam. Danny is one of my favorites. Standing at Fort Adams on Memorial Day 2022 at the somber Boots on the Ground Memorial.
Many of his friends somehow made it back and they are all still friends today. And now they are my friends and I love being around them.
Unlike my Grandfather’s return to great cheers and celebrations of victory, my partner, Michael and his friends returned to jeers and boos. No wonder many Vietnam Veterans never recovered when they returned.
I have learned so much from Michael and his friends. For me, one realization is that November 11th isn’t just a day off from work or school, a day to get your Holiday shopping started or your Thanksgiving meal menu firmed up.
Veterans Day is a day to say a whole-hearted Thank You to a veteran.
Whatever your personal beliefs are about war in general, our United States of America Veterans deserve to be honored for their service. To honor the men and women who continue to serve voluntarily so that the men and women who don’t choose this as their career are not forced to should we embark on a war we don’t have enough men and women to serve in.
Veterans Day is also a day to ask a Veteran about his or her experience. We, who have never served, have no idea what it was like for them. Some don’t want to talk about it, but there is usually a tear filled story in their hearts that they are willing to share. It is our responsibility as humans to keep those stories moving through them, to allow them to be heard.
I wish I had asked my Grandfather more about this time when he was younger. The older generation has lots of wisdom because of these experiences and our young people have the freedoms they have, we have, because of their service, voluntary or not.
Drafting seems so removed from the reality of our lives these days. Veterans Day reminds us of the good parts of military service and what can go right, but it should also be a day of reckoning when we realize that our government is also capable of making the mistakes it made during the Vietnam War and the wars that have gone on since.
Saying "Happy" Veterans Day feels awkward. War is not happy, coming home is for sure, but war is painful. Anticipation of war is what our men and women prepare for in the service. Forall of the brave men and women who are still here, to all who were forced to serve by a draft, and to all the families who have lost someone and the ripple effect this has caused in their lives forever, perhaps just saying Thank YOU is a better choice of words.
Thank you for your sacrifice.
Michael has a distinct memory of receiving a letter just like this one for an order to report for induction. GREETING, it said. This was the draft notice. Imagine.