... memoir to be an engaging read that does an excellent job in describing the physical reality of the Vietnam ...
Like No Other Book On the Subject!
Each of us who served in Vietnam was the guy next door, the average Joe, not a hero. The boy who might date your daughter or sister. The young man who might mow your yard. In Vietnam, we weren’t out to be heroes. We just did our jobs.
For a helicopter pilot, each day was like all the others. You flew the mission and never stopped to think that it might be your last. You didn’t think about the bullet holes in the helicopter, the cracks in the tail boom, or about any of it until night, lying in bed when you couldn’t think of anything else.
The Other Vietnam War is the story of the introduction to a new country, a backward culture, the perils of a combat zone, and the effects on a young lieutenant fresh out of flight school. It does not labor the reader with pages of white-knuckle adventures, as so many other fine books about the Vietnam War do. It instead focuses on the internal battle each soldier fought with himself to make sense of where he was, why he was there, and if he was good enough.
The administrative duties of Commissioned officers, while tame compared to the exploits of valiant pilots who wrote about them, caused a deep introspection into life and its value in an enigmatic place like Vietnam. Aside from the fear, excitement, deliverance, and denial that each pilot faced, the inner battle he fought with himself took its toll. Some of us thought we’d find glory. But many of us discovered there is no glory in war.
The male college student in the late sixties was screwed. If he had a clean nose, he could avoid the draft with a college deferment. But even a minor academic mishap could erase that and he would be on his way to see the world, courtesy of Uncle Sam. That’s what they said in the commercials: “Join the army, see the world.” Hell, I hadn’t even been anywhere but Kansas and Oklahoma. I had 49 other states to see in North America. I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the rest of the world. Not then, anyway. But as a student, I suspected Vietnam was inevitable.
Unless a guy had a shitload of luck, if he weren’t in college, he was probably already on a plane headed for Vietnam. Another option was a medical deferment. If you were gung-ho, you had no interest in that. If you weren’t gung-ho and had the money and knew the right doctor or congressman, you could buy one. Then there was always Canada.
Those of us who had enough drive to seek an education and the integrity to do what we thought was right ignored the ranting of our fellow students and peers who opposed the Vietnam War and pursued commissions as officers in the armed services. That was ROTC, the Reserve Officers Training Corps. All eligible freshmen and sophomores were required to undergo four semesters, or twelve credit hours, of ROTC training. Since it was a bona fide course, ROTC counted toward a student’s grade point average. For those who loathed military training, this was a thorn in the saddle of education, at least to the students who were in college to actually get an education. To those who weren’t, it was even more so, because they could easily jeopardize their draft deferment with low grades in ROTC. To the few who were gung-ho, it was a cushion for their grades.
The draft was not a fair business, but without it, our nation’s defense might have suffered. A strong military seems to deter aggression by other countries. So, I can’t be too hard on the draft. It was a necessary bit of awkwardness that we had to go through. I don’t begrudge our country taking young men to fight for it. I was glad to do it. That’s not quite all there was to this scenario, though. It’s what we were sent to fight for that’s the problem.
Since advanced ROTC was optional, after the sophomore year, most of the fellows dropped out of it. Enrollment in advanced ROTC meant you belonged to the military machine. You were one of them. You studied two more years, got your degree, and along with it a commission as a second lieutenant. Then you served your time, usually two or three years on active duty before being released. Well, you were still subject to being called up for active duty again, but that didn’t happen very often.
Those of us who didn’t drop out knew what was coming down the pike and figured that instead of allowing the military to tell us that we were going to be grunts sloshing and slashing our way through the rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam, we would select our own means of risking our lives and satisfying our military obligation. Well, there was a slight chance that you might escape the draft lottery. All the dates of birth of all eligible men were put into a pool and the dates were drawn, supposedly, at random. If your birth date was the first drawn, you would be the first to be called up for service. The first 120 dates were almost assured of being drafted unless that person had a deferment. Because I already had an education deferment, I had no idea what my number was and I really didn’t care. I’m sure I saw it on the notice I received from the Selective Service Board, but I paid no attention to it. At that time, it didn’t matter. But if I graduated, I would lose my deferment and if my crappy luck held, it would be the only time in my life that I would be close to number one. I made sure that didn’t happen.
I’ve always wondered, though, what my number would have been. And what kind of person I would be now if I were number one and didn’t finish college?
About the author:
Marc Cullison is a baby-boomer who grew up in an era when education was everything. After serving time as helicopter pilot with the U. S. Army Reserve, including time in Vietnam, a masters degree in architectural engineering helped honed his technical skills as a professional engineer. Then into quality control at a manufacturing plant which led him into computer programming. He was a math and science instructor at Connors State College in Warner and Muskogee, Oklahoma, for thirteen years. Now retired from teaching, he lives with his wife in a self-built log house near Sallisaw.