by William H. Scott
When I turned 17 my Dad told me that President Johnson would likely have a massive draft of kids my age into the Army and would send us into the jungles of Viet Nam to fight and die.
A career US Army officer, my father was not one for mincing words, was direct and always got to the point. Dad suggested that by joining the Navy Reserve the opportunity for his stated misadventure would be minimized. At age 18, I joined the Navy reserve. While the war raged on in Southeast Asia, and now safer as a civilian reservist, student enrollment at the University of Maryland in Munich Germany was next. The Scott family had been stationed in Baumholder, Germany at that time.
Suitcase and guitar in hand, I left home and took a 5 hour midnight train to Munich for fall classes. For the next 3 years while living in a Munich campus dormitory the Viet Nam war raging 6000 miles away was rarely thought about.
Faithfully attending classes for the next 3 years, drinking lots of dark German beer, my required reserve assignments were performed in London and Naples. At year three however, DOD orders arrived in the mail with directions for me to report to San Diego for 8 weeks of Navy boot camp training, at the conclusion of which, active service somewhere would be required. Did any one say Viet Nam?
The escalating war drafted both rich and poor kids into the Army as fodder for possible deployment to the jungles of Viet Nam. Reservist were also called up to be part of an increase in US presence in southeast Asia. Call up orders from the president summoned 10,500 of us to the war. That call up increased the US footprint in Southeast Asia to 536,000 troops.
I left my family in Germany and flew to California for 8 weeks of boot camp. Navy boot camp was preparation for what was feared, a deployment with thousands of hundreds of nervous 18 year olds to a war zone in Viet Nam. After 8 weeks of basic training, and now assigned to a giant drab grey Destroyer Escort with 210 strangers, we inductees experienced the turmoil of involuntary dislocation, the heartbreak of the homesick, and unknown dangers.
In addition to the maturation of boys to men, many unforgettable and scenic adventures in a dozen, exotic, foreign lands were experienced. This war was horrible, but in many ways, were some of the best years of my life.
Those kids pictured here are smiling because they had no idea of what was to come for the next years to come. Most of us returned to the USA fully intact after we lost the war and many of us would retain those smiles for the rest of our lives.
Some returned mutilated, in coffins or not at all, either because they became expatriates relocating to Asia with their new Asian wives or because they were killed in action. There were 58,000 US casualties. There were 800,000 Viet Nam casualties.
Sadly, I lost 2 close friends, . . . . to their new Asian wives.