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I just read a short biographical story about Robert Mueller III which described how he earned a bronze star and a purple heart in Vietnam. The story briefly contrasted Meuller and the draft dodging Donald Trump. It described how Trump has often joked that avoiding STD’s in the 1980’s was “his Vietnam,” and how his constant pursuit of sex marked him as very brave soldier. Both men are five years my senior and reached draft age before the war turned sour.
I had my own Vietnam experience and Like Trump’s it was back here in the states. “My Vietnam” began when I learned what to expect from my Mother when I skinned a knee. She told me, “Don’t cry Harry. Your grandfather was shot” (as a soldier in World War 1) “and he didn’t cry.”
I learned at a tender age how my Grandfather had been awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor and how he led a company of black soldiers into combat. I learned how he had been appointed as a Kansas State Auditor to fill the empty seat left by a disgraced Democrat. I learned how he protected the Democrats on the Auditor’s staff when the Republican Governor who had appointed him told him to send them packing. And I learned of my Grandfather’s steadfast belief in the credo: “My country right or wrong.” He made sure to tell me that he had only made one serious mistake in his life. It was when he voted for Woodrow Wilson who had campaigned to “Keep America out of War.”
My Grandfather knew that the United States had no business fighting in a European war. Despite this my Grandfather could not abandon his credo. He was among the first to enlist and in doing so he gave up a safe job as a high school principal. Long after his war time convalescence he would continue to blame Democrats Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman for getting us into new wars that all sprung from Wilson’s broken promise.
When I began seventh grade another Democrat, Lyndon Johnson, was getting us mired in Vietnam. My Father, a World War II vet, was outraged. He cussed out LBJ at every announcement of increasing troop shipments during the evening news. Donald Trump, was also John Kerry’s age. Kerry, a 2004 presidential contender, was a Democrat and like my Grandfather a man of duty. He enlisted and fought in the Mekong River. I can’t help but wonder where the Republican patriots who “swift boated” John Kerry were when the randy, draft-dodger Trump was campaigning to become our Nation’s Commander-and-Chief.
Enrolling in college gave me a four-year student deferment from Vietnam when I was draft bait with a low draft number of #41. Like my Republican father I opposed the war and yet I could not put my Grandfather’s example out of my head especially when I saw a nincompoop burn his draft card in my first few days of college (for more Google “About a Corn Cob snowbizz.com”).
By the time I got to college we had a Republican President and one who may have secretly prolonged the Vietnam War by sabotaging the Paris Peace Talks when he ran for President. It was during the Nixon Administration’s Republican War that I turned my back on “My Country Right or Wrong.” I would only except my Country’s being right.
I began playing the contrarian during those college years. When a group of students marched to occupy our college President’s offices I laid down on the sidewalk in front of their march and forced them to step over me. A few of the saints pointedly drug their feet across my chest.
In 1972 I gladly voted for Democrat George McGovern, a much maligned “Peace” Democrat for President while turning up my nose at working for the well healed Nixon reelection campaign. And yet, when the McGovern campaign challenged a desiccated College Republican club to a debate I took up the challenge of defending Richard Nixon in front of hundreds of rabid Nixon haters. I did it out of the democratic conviction that everyone deserved an advocate. When, after the debate, two good friends told me that they were disappointed in me I offered no self-justification. It they wanted to be disappointed in me that was their prerogative.
My patriot Grandfather was disheartened with the anti-war protests of my generation and the peace marches I gladly joined so long as they weren’t staged like middle fingers. I lucked out of Vietnam graduating the year soldiers began coming home but I took no joy in having avoided the military. By remaining a civilian I had a lot of company. A lot of Republican company.
That was our Vietnam.
Harry Welty is a small-time politician who also pontificates at www.lincolndemocrat.com