Saturday, July 1, 2017

My Father’s War, and Mine - The New York Times

As a member of the class of 1967 at Holy Cross College I had options to avoid going to war.  It was easy  I was about to marry and we were headed to the Peace Corps and India.  A double exemption with a one year 1-Y to follow while getting a master's degree.  So I did not face the tension Hammet describes.
My Father’s War, and Mine - The New York Times
by Theodore Hammet
I can’t pinpoint what changed my mind. Probably, it was the relentless escalation, the rising death toll and all the destruction with no clear objective. It was increasingly hard for me to envision being a Marine in Vietnam; instead, I could see myself in the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom,” covered by the Byrds on their first album, in the summer of 1965: “Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight.” It began to dawn on me that if the songs I was listening to were right, then the war must be wrong.
In the class of 1967, we all had to make choices about Vietnam. The privilege of attending Harvard brought many opportunities to avoid the war, including exempt occupations, doctors’ letters (often phony), influence on draft boards and six-month reserve enlistments. These, together with acts of opposition — registering as a conscientious objector, going to jail, fleeing to Canada — meant that only about 40 of my classmates — out of about 1,200 in our freshman class — served in Vietnam, and only two were killed. A total of 22 Harvard men died in the Vietnam War compared with almost 700 in World War II, including two of my father’s roommates.
During a long argument on the telephone in the spring of 1966, I told my father that I was against the Vietnam War and was going to withdraw from the Marine Corps. “You’re spitting on everything I believe in,” he replied angrily.
My father went to war with pride and returned to a hero’s welcome. He and his generation helped to save the world. Since I returned from Vietnam for the first time in 1969, I have become even more convinced that our war there was terribly wrong. Still, I accepted and actually wear the Marine Corps lapel pin given me by my former platoon commander at a Basic School reunion in 2015. I have grown able to appreciate both those who bravely served in Vietnam and those whose actions against the war helped end it sooner than it might have otherwise.
I do not claim to have made the most honorable choices about Vietnam. In 1966 and 1967, I was young and confused and gave in to doubt and fear. If I had it to do over again, I hope I would have been truer to my principles and refused to serve in Vietnam. Over the ensuing years, I argued heatedly with my father about the war, and we never agreed. At the end of one argument, he said that “we’ve come to a parting of the ways.” This was not literally true. I continued a somewhat troubled relationship with him until his death.

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