Fr. Dale Matson
What many people frequently forget about the Viet Nam war was, when it ended, the draft was abolished.
While not on academic probation in my senior year in college, my grades no longer qualified me for the 2S student deferment according to my local draft board. I did not agree with the war and considered other equally unattractive alternatives. I did not consider fleeing to Canada. I was drafted into the U.S. Army in early 1967. My basic training was at Ft. Leonard Wood Missouri. My group was then sent to Fort Ord California for infantry training and unexpectedly, three weeks later, sent back to Leonard Wood for Combat Engineer Training. I had orders for Officer Candidate School but decided during AIT that I didn’t want to spend the additional time in the service. My request to transfer out of OCS changed my permanent duty station from Viet Nam to Ft. Wainwright Alaska. Most of my AIT company went to Viet Nam because the National Guard and Enlisted Reserve trainees were headed back home to their respective reserve units following their training. This was a time of tremendous buildup of forces in Viet Nam and most trainees that were volunteers or draftees were sent there to meet the quotas.
I am not about to tell the usual war stories but I can say that even traveling in uniform was not a good idea. There was great public hostility toward military personnel. College campuses were sights of continual unrest with riots, bombing and burning of buildings, student “sit ins” and demonstrations. These things went on at home for years and included the Kent State shooting where four students were shot to death by the National Guard troops. In short, our own military was seen by the public as the enemy. President Johnson was fighting a war on two fronts. He was fighting the war on poverty at home and the Viet Nam War.
The question I ask myself is, “What would have happened if there had been an all-volunteer army fighting in Viet Nam at that time like we have now fighting our wars.” With volunteers, the agony of war is compartmentalized and insulated. The public and news media can and do avoid thinking about and reporting on the full reality of war. During Viet Nam, TV news reported the casualties every night. As much as I hated those young people for causing such a social disruption, I believe their involvement helped end a terrible conflict. Those who ran to Canada and celebrities like Jane Fonda going to North Viet Nam were despised. When Jimmy Carter granted those who ran to Canada immunity, I thought, “Who will fight your next war?” I remember cheering in our barracks when LBJ announced that he would not seek a second full term.
And these are the questions I pose on this Memorial Day. “Should we reconsider the draft? Would we be so quick to involve ourselves in the affairs of other countries if citizens needed to be called up and trained? Could those who objected be allowed alternative service opportunities? Would we be fighting so hard to preserve the second amendment if there were more citizen soldiers? Would our young people regain their respect for a country they served for two years of their life?" Cheap citizenship is no different than cheap grace.
May those who gave their lives to serve this great and God blessed country, both draftees and volunteers, rest in peace. Amen