I didn’t serve in the military.
When I graduated from high school in 1971 the war in Vietnam was the ugliest wart on a butt-ugly year. Cambodia and Laos were dragged into the mess. American soldiers increasingly turned to drugs to numb the effects of the seemingly endless war. Anti-war protests turned violent. The US economy was in the tank, suffering ever-higher inflation, unemployment, and taxes. American cars were so bad the Chevy Vega was named “car of the year.” President Richard Nixon initiated wage and price controls – not exactly a free-market solution to our economic problems. The nightly news in 1971 was grim, to say the least.
As a high school senior I had been recruited by all the military branches, especially the Marines. I considered joining, because I wanted to go to college and didn’t have any way to afford it. But I knew I wasn’t tough enough to be a Marine, and nobody wanted to go to Vietnam.
August of 1971 was the last military draft lottery and my number was 228 – I was not going to be drafted. So my family scraped together a few dollars, I took a couple of part-time jobs, and off I went to college.
No, I didn’t serve in the military. And I have always regretted it.
I envy my friends who served. They have fond memories of the comradery, the travel, the hyper-organized “get-it-done” military attitude and lifestyle. They worked hard but served with pride and they smile as they look back on their military years. They seem to have a maturity that is absent in many of their peers.
I have a fascination with military technology and history, and can lose whole days of vacation time rattling around on a decommissioned aircraft carrier or studying the mechanical intricacy of WWII bombers. I watch war movies and get caught up in the patriotism and adventure. I admire the polish and confidence of the young men and women who return from service in the Middle East.
But I also know that war is hell, and I wasn’t ready for hell in 1971. I have profound respect and admiration for the guys who kept crawling up the hill on Tarawa, over the dead bodies of comrades and enemies. For the bomber crews who kept strapping in, knowing that the odds were against completing their required 25 missions over Germany. For the GIs who manned up for another breathless patrol into the steaming jungles of Vietnam – and another, and another.
I didn’t serve. But I mourn the loss and injury of every serviceman and woman who did. And I am infuriated when our government sometimes treats our warriors and their families so badly, while too-frequently coddling our enemies.
I didn’t serve. God bless all of you who do, and who did.
Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side
Paul Revere and the Raiders have been among our strongest supporters of Vietnam veterans. For many years Paul Revere led the “Rolling Thunder” motorcycle rally to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. He and the band donated the proceeds from their “Ride to the Wall” CD and tour events to veterans organizations, and still honor our veterans at every performance. If this super group of patriots is playing near you, don’t miss their top-notch show – they are just as hot as they were in 1966. Here’s a clip from one of their events, a shout-out to the Vietnam Vets.