Vietnam – Prologue

In 1967, the year I was drafted into the US Army, Matin Luther King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”, encouraged draft evasion and suggested a merger between antiwar and civil rights groups. We were two + years at war with Vietnam although no formal proclamation of war had ever passed the Congress. After receiving my draft notice in the mail, I was ordered to report to a central downtown Philadelphia location to have a physical. When that day arrived, my mother packed me a lunch and rode with me on first a trolley car and then a subway to downtown. Of the hundreds of young men filing through an entrance gate, I was the only one who had their mother with them. She hugged me and told me to be safe and that she would wait for me until I was finished. The catcalls were numerous and loud, but I pretended not to notice and even though embarrassed, I would not let it show in front of my mother. Often I think back on that day as an example of maternal unconditional love and I smile at my mother’s devotion…

Nine weeks later I was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey participating in “advanced infantry training”. I was assigned to Charlie Company. I could also have gone to Alpha Company or Delta Company, but not to Bravo Company. Why? Because Bravo Company was now a “memorial” company after the previous graduating class perished within two months of arriving in Vietnam. My previously little amount of enthusiasm for advanced infantry training was now drained completely. During my time there I was often depressed, which contributed to my decision to technically go “Absent Without Leave (AWOL)” one evening to drive home to meet with my girlfriend (and eventual mother of my children) and my roommate from college to discuss the idea of leaving for Canada to avoid going to Vietnam. My roommate and I thought we should all take off and start a new life; my girlfriend said that would be premature, as I had no actual orders for Vietnam, and that the prudent move would be to wait and see what the future brought. As an early example of following feminine wisdom, I drove back to the base in the early morning hours and slipped back into the barracks about fifteen minutes before morning roll call…I now had a plan.

My next duty station was Fort Knox Kentucky, the home of the “Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) Driving School” where I learned how to drive small tank-like vehicles of disaster. Drivers were desperately needed in Vietnam because they were dying at a very quick rate. These vehicles were so unsafe and primed for destruction after running over a land mine, that infantry troops refused to ride inside; rather, they would take their chances of being able to jump from the outside top of the APC, rather than be inside subjected to assorted flying metal fragments. The drivers had no such choice as they had to be at the inside controls. My future looked unpromising. Orders did arrive that had me shipping out from California to Vietnam on a date that was fortunately two weeks before driving school ended, forcing the return of the orders to be re-issued. Fly-fishing while sipping on a Labatt’s was looking very appealing, however when the new orders finally arrived, I was sent to Korea instead. While stationed thirteen months in Korea, I would from time to time see and meet soldiers on R&R from Vietnam and most of them had seen heavy combat. From the look in their eyes I knew I had been fortunate that fate took me down another path and I felt very thankful. Somehow, I had avoided going to Vietnam…

Give Back The Pueblo, Or Else You're Going To Have To Deal With Me

Time to become a civilian again


About Alan G Billingsley

My career has been varied, including time as a newspaper deliverer, lifeguard, bubble gum maker, door-to-door detergent promoter, telephone book proofreader, short order cook, private employment agency counselor and owner, office and credit manger, infantryman, pots and pans salesman, Chinese restaurant cook, Chinese restaurant owner, public employment counselor, budget analyst, tax analyst, grant administrator, radio announcer, radio and television show host, disk jockey, automobile valet, child advocate, and now retiree. I've seldom been bored.
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