Deadwyler column: The trip I should not have made
By Hugh Deadwyler
For the Salisbury Post
The trip I should not have made was to Vietnam on “Flying Tigers” military contract airlines in October 1970. The war was winding down, so most of our troops were in big base camps making ever fewer, dangerous sweeps of the countryside. I was a newly-minted, desk-bound G-2 intelligence analyst and I was stationed with the 101st at Camp Eagle.
During my time over there I was only concerned for my own skin. However, events happened that left me with a memory that would haunt me for the rest of my life.
I knew better. In the late 1960s, I had marched and petitioned against the war. But in December of ’69, having had a college deferment, I was put in the first draft lottery and got a “winning” number. I was drafted in May 1970.
But between those times, when I was still in college, a friend returned from ‘Nam. He had a terrible time and said it was a terrible war for everyone concerned. When we’d see each other he’d urge me to do whatever I could but NOT TO GO.
What Loch didn’t know was that I had a free get-out-of-the-draft card to play. All I had to do was call a psychiatrist (also anti-war) who had treated and medicated me a couple of years back, and he would send a letter to the draft board and I would be 4-F ó medically unfit for service. But this was “back in the day” when it was not so common to see mental health professionals and I was concerned about the possible social and job stigma of being rated mentally unfit.
I got sick of seeing Loch because every time he’d tell me, “Don’t go, man!” But I was determined to get military service on my resume as part of the ticket to “the good life.”
Anyway, as I said, I made the trip and was a working Intel Analyst in the northern I Corps area of the country. To demonstrate what I did, let me briefly tell you about the situation in Vietnam in late 1971. Nixon was gearing up to pull out, declaring “Vietnamization” a success. The watchword was “low casualties.” Stay in your base camp and don’t engage the North Vietnamese.
My job at the Intel Shop was to simply passively compile information on enemy location, intentions and identification of NVA units. I also updated the hanging clear plastic tactical map with a grease pencil. It had symbols for sightings and aerial reconnaissance of enemy installations. It wasn’t my job, but I approached a young officer in “B-52 Targeting” and showed him an area of apparent heavy activity and asked him, “Why don’t we bomb this?” “Sure,” he said. “Work up the coordinates and we’ll do it.”We struck, and the next day I was mapping the results of my brainchild with symbols for explosions, fires, and secondary explosions. At the time, I noted with pride that “my strike” messed up more real estate than most had.
War had become a game for me. And in retrospect I realize now that my strike, given its location and time period during the war, probably didn’t keep a single American from getting hurt yet it probably killed and maimed a score of Vietnamese.
I remember the last thing my friend Loch ever told me before I reported for induction: “Don’t do that to those people, and don’t do that to yourself.”
Hugh Deadwyler lives in Salisbury.