Granite Falls, NC, USA
During my two years in AFROTC I started developing doubts about the morality and legality of America's involvement in Vietnam, but I had been brought up to obey my government. The turning point for me came when I saw a friend whose fiance was a lieutenant in Vietnam wearing a McCarthy button. That gave me permission to question everything, and I've been questioning authority ever since. I raised my voice in protest at many rallies and wrote numerous letters to the editors in opposition to the war. I let it be known that I believed the war violated the U.S. Constitution, the Monroe Doctrine, the SEATO charter, and at least eight of the Ten Commandments. But I never burned a flag, and I never spit on a person in uniform. Personally, I did not know anyone who did. I saw someone in the distance at one rally waving a North Vietnamese flag, but I didn't go near them and tried not to associate myself with their sentiments. In fact, I cheered the National Lampoon for their ridicule of Jane Fonda. No one I knew in the Movement had any respect for her and what she did in North Vietnam. In later years as I got to know some Vietnam veterans I let them know that while they were over there fighting for no identified cause I was working hard over here to bring them home. I never showed disrespect to a person in uniform, even though their uniforms made me uncomfortable. Those who supported the war wrapped themselves in the flag the way the Ku Klux Klan wrapped themselves in the Confederate Battle Flag to the point where it was awfully hard to sing the National Anthem or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I still get funny feelings deep in the base of my spine when I do either of these public acts, especially since George Bush politicized the Pledge so severely in 1988. As far as I'm concerned these people desecrated the flag more than anyone I saw burning one on TV during that time. By the way, I have never seen a flag- burning in person and have not seen one on TV in almost 30 years.
Partly because I took ROTC I entered my senior year at Carolina a year early. Suddenly I was graduating with a degree in nothing marketable and uncertain about my future. I needed to take a year or so off to sort out my life and explore different career options, but I couldn't with the draft hanging over my head. I had considered OCS but I couldn't wear a uniform that stood for so much that was repugnant to me. So I went to seminary to explore what I wanted to do with my life. Unfortunately, I didn't do that but stayed with the seminary program and became an ordained minister. The day after the Kent State massacre, during my second year of seminary, I got a 1-A draft notice because I had not jumped through all the proper administrative hoops with my local draft board. The most courageous thing I ever did was mail it back to them with the request that I drop my ministerial exemption and register as a conscientious objector.
Over eight years of pastoring churches I came to realize I was in the wrong profession, but it took that long to work up the courage to make a change. I finally went back to school and changed professions, but the dilatory work habits I had developed over my lifetime kept me from achieving as much as I could have. Never have I had as much courage, dedication, and drive as when I had the Vietnam war and the Pentagon to focus my energies against. I sometimes miss those days of my youth, but I have to realize that where I am today is a direct result of the choices I made myself. I can blame the lack of chances I had to explore my life on the draft, but it's been more than a quarter century since I turned 26, and I have to look at myself for the choices I have made. Still, I miss my youthful idealism.