A war generation


Baby boomers are a product of war. Soldiers returning home from WWII were mighty horny. And presto, between 1946-60, approximately 75 million of us were born. The largest generation of Americans, ever. And one that has become weary, and leery, of war.

Korea touched us briefly. Starting in 1950, it lasted until 1953. Boomers were too young to participate. Still, some fathers, uncles, cousins, brothers, lost their lives in Korea. Some 33,665 soldiers did. There were not many stories told about Korea. It was overshadowed by WWII and the war that was to come.

Vietnam. America first became involved in 1961. It slowly, from 1964-75, became a major war, with 2.59 million Americans eventually serving. 58,226 soldiers gave their lives. It was, and continues to be the longest military conflict in our history. Saigon fell to the Communists on April 30, 1975. North and South Vietnam became known as The Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Every baby boomer would, in one way or another, be affected by the Vietnam War. Questions continue to be asked today: What was it all about? What was accomplished? Why?

I was no exception to the warŐs effect. In 1966, two months before my graduation, I enlisted in the army. I, like many of my friends, would follow in the footsteps of our fathers and would serve in the military. There seemingly was no choice. You would do what was expected of you. The army had a deferred enlistment program at the time, where you got paid and got credit for time served from graduation to Sept. 1. I was to report for duty on Sept. 5, 1966. I signed up to become an operating room technician. With a high school diploma and no skills, I'm guessing I would have become infantry.

Two weeks prior to my graduation, my father died from a sudden heart attack. My enlistment became null and void, and I was assigned a draft classification of III-A, a hardship case. I went to work to help my mother until she got on her feet. I began college about a year later, eventually transferring to Southern Illinois University. My draft classification changed to II-S, college student. I graduated in 1971, got married, and headed for Bethany Theological Seminary. I actually did not go to seminary to stay out of the military. I always admired my best friendŐs father, who was a minister and early advocate for the environment. I was following in his footsteps. My deferment moved to IV-D, divinity student.

Backing up a bit, my life turned toward the left while I was an undergraduate student at SIU. My advisor and mentor was a radical sociologist who followed the ideology of Marx. I was a sociology major and political science minor, so politics and socialism started creeping into my life. By the time I graduated I had been to the 1968 Democratic Convention, had volunteered in the Bobby Kennedy Presidential campaign, was involved in numerous anti-war demonstrations, and lead a takeover of the PresidentŐs office at SIU the day after the Kent State killings.

Bethany Theological Seminary, in Oak Brook, Illinois, was associated with the Church of the Brethren, a traditional pacifist church. One of the worldŐs leading authorities on pacifism and non­violence, Dr. Dale Brown, became my advisor and mentor while I was at Bethany, from 1971-72. Now, along with my radical politics, I became a pacifist and advocate for non-violent social change. These were odd mixtures for someone coming from where I did, a mere three months away from a three-year enlistment in the army some seven years earlier. I was 24.

When I left seminary, I declared myself a conscientious objector and petitioned the draft board. I appeared before them three times before I was granted conscientious objector status, on December 5, 1972. To the best of my knowledge, I was granted the only CO status outside of a non-traditional pacifist church that was given by this particular draft board, who, in a rural Southern Illinois area, were extremely conservative.

While arranging my two years alternative service, the draft ended. What had been a major influence in my life for seven years had ended.

I do believe most of us did what we thought was best regarding the Vietnam War. Many of my friends served. Luckily, none were seriously injured. We were young and influenced primarily by our families, particularly our fathers. In death, my father changed the course of my life. Still, after all these years, I wonder how he would have felt about it?