I’m a military brat. From the time I was 2 years old until I was 21, my father served his country well. He was a criminal investigator, first in the Air Force and then the Army. We moved, hmm, about a million times.
Vietnam started when I was 11. By the time I was in my early teens, my friends were regularly saying goodbye to older brothers and fathers headed for Southeast Asia. For a few, it was a final goodbye.
The Tet Offensive exploded when I was 15. It was a confusing time. Anti-war demonstrations, demonization of the military, and the evening news — all were huge sources of worry.
I was horribly conflicted. Few kids my age were more rebellious than me, yet I had a hard time identifying with the anti-war element.
I didn’t want to go to Vietnam, but my entire life to that point was a close association with soldiers. Disrespecting them was not part of my psyche.
We moved to Utah (Fort Douglas) in 1970. Rebellion against authority was in full swing by then. Being an Army brat made me unpopular in some circles.
One summer night at a party in Mill Creek Canyon, some knuckle dragger called my father (whom he didn’t even know) a “murderer of women and kids.”
As far as I knew, the only kid the Old Man had ever tried to kill was me. I said something rude back to the guy. It was about his mother, whom I didn’t know either. Fair was fair.
The ensuing fight wasn’t fair. The knuckle dragger was twice my size, so I ended up being thoroughly drubbed and humiliated in front of the gathering.
Whimpering into the night, I passed through the parking area. It was that moment when I realized that some of my military upbringing had rubbed off on me. I wasn’t a regular soldier, of course. More like a Viet Cong one.
Note: If you drove a shiny Mercury Cougar in the summer of ’71, and somebody pitched a full can of beer through the back window, it was me. I’m sorry for what I said about your mother, but not for your ride.
A year later, while Vietnam was still banging along, my draft number was announced. Now it was time to be a real soldier.
The Old Man rightly assumed that if I got drafted, I’d end up as a bullet catcher. Lacking any specialized skills or interests, there was a good chance I would be lugging a rifle in some dank, faraway place.
Using his military connections, my father found me a place in the Utah National Guard. A few months later, I was at Fort Jackson, S.C.
Oddly enough, I liked being in the Army. In my own Forrest Gump way, I figured it out. As long as I did what I was supposed to when yelled at, I could do whatever I wanted afterward — which consisted mainly of weed and alcohol.
I considered transferring into the regular Army. I called the Old Man and suggested the idea of me going “active,” even if it meant I might go to Vietnam. He didn’t want me anywhere near the place and talked me out of it.
So, after six months, I came home and stayed in the Guard. I managed to clean myself up enough to serve a Mormon mission. My father knew he’d helped me make the right decision.
I was still in the Language Training Mission (now the Missionary Training Center) in Provo (and hating life) when the Old Man received orders for Vietnam. There’s irony for you.
Tuesday night, the Cub Scouts in my LDS ward honored military veterans by having those of us who had served stand up for applause.
It was nice, but I didn’t really think I deserved it. So I stood there for the Old Man and all those who went and didn’t come home.