Some blog posts are hard to write. This is one of them. Part of the reason it was hard to write, is I did not have the answers and part was I knew it was a subject that was uncomfortable for my father.
But this week is Memorial Day week, and I felt now was a good time to put pen to paper, if not for me, then for future generations.
You see, I grew up during the Vietnam War. My mother did not let us watch TV, because I had cousins fighting there and she just could not take watching all the coverage of the war and wondering if one of them was killed and we just didn’t know it yet. So I grew up blissfully not knowing that a war was being fought by my country most of my childhood. But for so many of my childhood friends this was not the case, as their Daddies, Mommies or cousins went to Vietnam and never came home.
All I knew about my Dad’s connection to the War was that he got Draft Papers. He went to have the physical and according to him, got as far as having the physical when the doctor came in, said he was 4F and sent him home. Needless to say, Dad would not talk about it beyond that. He had gone to serve his country and had been denied. I am sure it was cause for great shame to my father, who was a hard working man who fulfilled all his duties in life. The few times I asked about it, he’d change the subject and that was that.
After my father’s death, I decided I wanted to know more about why he’d been labeled 4F. My mother always said it was because my brother was born with severe Cerebral Palsy and the doctor must have recognized my father. I think she needed an answer to what had happened and Dad either did not know the reason, or did not want to discuss it with her, so she came up with the only solution she could at the time. I accepted that as a child, but as an adult, I questioned whether a sick child would have cause a person to be labeled 4F.
So I did a little research: Men who are incapable of serving for medical or psychological unfitness are classified 4-F. Now my Dad was one of the sanest people I ever met, so that only left incapable of serving for medical reasons. Could my brother’s Cerebral Palsy have been a reason to have labeled my father who was in his late 20s from serving? Or was there another reason?
Several years before my father’s death, I was at the Tennessee State Archives researching my family and I found an article on a car wreck my father was involved in when he was twenty. My dad and eight other teenagers were riding through downtown Nashville early one morning and Dad failed to stop at the stop sign. He hit another car. He and several of the kids in the car were sent to the hospital. I took the article home and showed it to Dad. He was furious. He normally loved what I found at the state archives. But this night he wanted me to destroy the article. Dad had spent several weeks in the hospital, and eventually had to have his spleen removed. Several of the other children were sent to the hospital with head and internal injuries. In the midst of raising three small children, I forgot about the article, the wreck and what I know about my Dad’s surgery until he became sick with cancer in 2001. While taking him to doctors for Chemo, the fact that he had had his spleen removed when he was 20 came to light. He didn’t mention the wreck, only that his spleen had been removed when he was younger. I didn’t make any connection between the two. Perhaps stress and exhaustion played a part in me missing an important genealogical connection.
In 2016, I decided to try and research all I could about my Dad’s life during the time he would have been drafted. By the time the US entered the War, my dad was nearly 30 years old, had two children, one with Cerebral Palsy. He received a letter telling him to report to the Draft Board, and he did. He made it as far as the physical. That is when the doctor most likely saw the scar from his surgery and upon finding out that Dad had had his spleen removed as a twenty year old, sent him home, 4F. Dad’s embarrassment was two fold: He was most likely ashamed of staying home when many men he knew went off to serve. And he was greatly ashamed of the wreck in his twenties that nearly killed himself and several other kids in his car. This explains why dad never talked about not only the wreck, but also why he had been labeled 4F and been sent home. At his age, he most likely would not have been called up to serve anyway, since in 1965, the draft age was 18-26 and Dad would have been 29. By 1967, the age had been lifted to 35. My dad would have been 31, and could have been drafted then had he not been 4F. On November 26, 1969, President Nixon signed an amendment to the Military Selective Service Act of 1967 (Selective Service Act of 1948) that established conscription based on random selection (lottery). The first draft lottery was held on December 1, 1969; it determined the order of call for induction during calendar year 1970, for registrants born between January 1, 1944, and December 31, 1950. The second lottery, on July 1, 1970, pertained to men born in 1951. The third was on August 5, 1971, pertaining to men born in 1952.
I am a proud American girl and I am so thankful for those men and women who did serve our country during the Vietnam War. Since it is Memorial Day week, I am especially thankful for the service of the young men and women who did not come home from serving in Vietnam. My cousins all came home safely. They went on to live normal lives, marry and have children. I am thankful for the sacrifices they made to keep me safe as a child. I am also thankful my dad was able to stay home with my mom. For you see, he and Mom fought on a very different battlefield for 44 years. Dad was still fighting that battle when he took his last breath in 2002. My brother passed away in 2005. Mom’s battle was finally over.
Dad and my brother, taken circa 1964 shortly before I was born.