Personal Duty

by fmhilton

While the controversy over Donald Trump’s ‘battle’ with a Gold Star family (unnecessarily) continues, I thought it would be right to depict what went on with families whose sons did serve in the military during the Vietnam War.

Such as mine.

My brother, (who is gonna hate me for this) enlisted in the US Army in 1965. No, not drafted. He applied for and earned a position in the Green Berets, an army unit that was formed 1952 to do combat in very demanding circumstances.

They are considered the ‘elite’ of the combat units, trained in all forms of combat readiness. They’re still considered to be a very tough outfit to be in, no matter what the Navy Seals think.

So he enlisted.

This created a very problematical and personal dilemma for my father.

My father was a career officer in the Army, serving at that time at Aberdeen Proving Ground, primarily to oversee testing of the M60 machine gun which was in active development. He was one of the main people to have helped develop it, and he was in charge of monitoring those tests.

He was very well known for this, and in fact did a 60 second take on the CBS evening news to discuss it. He was thrilled at the time to have done it. We all were.

How he took my brother’s enlistment and position in the Army is not known to me. I do not know if he was proud (possibly), dismayed, (probably) or just plain neutral (not likely).

Because he was privately against the war. He once told me that during a staff meeting with some higher-level officers, he had blurted out, “Why don’t we just let them go Communist!”

For which I’m sure someone noted-but he was an extremely well-liked and intelligent man, who was contributing his service to his country. He’d served in many areas during his career.

In December of 1965, he applied for his retirement. He’d had enough. It took months to finalize it, and his application had to go to the Secretary of the Army-a very rare and unusual occurrence, one that is not usually done.

In June of 1966, he was granted the right to retire and did so. We immediately moved to Maine, in hopes of escaping the ever-increasing turmoil that was starting to rock the country.

Meanwhile, my mother had to endure this. She was undoubtedly living in daily fear of losing her only son, to become a statistic of the war that my father had retreated from.

She’d seen this before-she had waited for my father while he’d been in WWII..and now this new war was threatening to take her son. She was undoubtedly in personal agony. Any military wife and mother has also gone through this horror. It’s not an enviable position.

On many levels, my family was very much involved in this conflict: my father, for having developed a weapon used to kill people, my brother for having done so.

They both undoubtedly had resulting personal guilt feelings about it in the end, but I’ve never spoken to my brother about it. I don’t think he would talk about it even if he wanted to, or could. It’s just too much history to go through again.

My father was conflicted as well, and probably suffered as much as any man could during it, without having seen combat there.

No wonder at night he sat in his favorite chair and drank in silence. He had too much to think about and too much to regret.

So when I watch as Donald Trump says he ‘sacrificed’ as well during the Vietnam War, all I have to say to him is this: