Most men of my era
spent time in uniform.
Military service was expected and respected.
While there was some dread of personal freedom lost for the most part I looked forward to this as a rite of passage and believe that was generally the case among American men of my era. Coming of age in the 50's meant the United States of America was the one nation that exemplified and defended freedom and justice.
Our world changed in 1968. The United States of America became mired in an unpopular and unwinnable war. Young men and women, and many of their parents, revolted when they discovered their leaders were liars. Military service became something all but true-believers and the poor avoided.
When I returned to the University of Illinois in 1967 students wanted me to tell them what was really happening in Vietnam. They knew more than me. Nightly news showed the action and wise men analyzed and explained cause and effect. In a war zone one is busy trying to survive and all we knew was propaganda printed in the Stars & Stripes newspaper.
We didn't have the facts and probably wouldn't have benefited if we had. Being an intellectual would not have enhanced one's ability to survive incoming ordinance.
We knew we were on the side of right and might. Moving into the tropics in the heat of summer made it necessary to cut off sleeves, remove underwear and cut holes for ventilation. For a while we had a weather station but it was removed when it disobeyed orders by registering 140 degrees Fahrenheit. But no one cared. We lived unbathed in dust and mud and only got to town twice.
I can't say I never looked back because things happened in Vietnam that still caused nightmares 40 years later. My generation, this nation and I will never be the same.
Got into DaNang twice.__Get out of here look. __ Vietnamese Women
"A man has to experience death to know life." I don't know who said it but I believe it. 1966 was spent at Kaneohe Marine Corp Air Station on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. My first four months were a wonder of meeting young women on the beach and fun beyond belief. This was life I had never known before and would never know again. Most of all I was a good soldier who followed orders and did what I was told.
Nervous is the enlisted man who hears he is to "Stand before the mast." Captain Cohn and I marched to the parade ground together, he stopped and I was called to the mast and told to "stand at attention."
Meritorious Service Commendation
If anticipation of an award is supposed to be motivational that was lost on me as this was totally unexpected. I was just doing my job.
Hawaii was great but I knew my life held promise of more. Six months before being scheduled for discharge I was accepted for readmission to the University of Illinois. Captain Cohn processed a four week "early-out" so I could be in Urbana, Illinois in time for Spring Semester.
"Come into my office, I have important news." Captain Cohn said I had been recommended for promotion and that it was his duty to convince me to rescind my early-out and sign-up for a 12 month extension. I respectfully reaffirmed that I had been readmitted to college, that everyone who was promoted was immediately being sent back to Vietnam and that having been there and done that I respectfully declined the honor.
"Good choice, but don't tell anyone I didn't do my best to re-enlist you" was Captain Cohn's response.