Paying Their Dues on Behalf of Others
As a freshman at F&M in fall 1971, I faced induction into the U.S. Army one year earlier than my brother, who was three years older than I. That’s because my college class was the first since World War II to not qualify for a 2-S student deferment. No one I knew wanted to go to Vietnam. The good news was that, at the time, the United States was in the midst of a draw-down of troops as a result of its “Veitnamization” policy, and rumor had it that anyone having a birth date drawing over 50 (out of 365) in the draft lottery would not have to go to Vietnam. As we all gathered around the ticker-tape machine on campus announcing the draft lottery drawing, with most celebrating their numbers exceeding that fateful mark, I’ll never forget watching in horror as my birth date drew number 12. But fate led to another twist in my story as I found out with great relief that the Army, due to my health history and several sports injuries, decided I was officially unfit for military service, and assigned me the coveted 4-F deferment from service.
In later years, though, my perspective on the Vietnam War changed. I had the opportunity to work with a Vietnamese refugee who had been a former army officer and senator in the South. I also lived with several Vietnamese “boat people” who had braved pirates, over-crowded boats and storms to flee persecution from the North Vietnamese. Through their eyes I began to see the North Vietnamese as ghoulish invaders inflicting torture and untold hardships on the South, not as a force to unify the country and liberate it from the evil American occupiers.
Though sympathetic to Roger Derstine’s desire to explore “every option to avoid [military service],” (Back to Vietnam, Spring 2018), I began to see veterans such as Dave Lehman ’68 and Vance Fink P’92 as unsung heroes doing their duty at a very difficult time, even to the point of facing epithets such as “baby killer,” etc. I’m very thankful for men and women like them who were willing to pay their dues on behalf of others.
Robert R. Wilcox ’75
Falls Church, Va.
Compassion for Those We Remember
Whenever the subject of the Vietnam War comes up (Back to Vietnam, Spring 2018), I always remember the name Lynn Blessing. Near the end of F&M’s spring term in 1975, I was finishing finals when the media reported the Koh Tang incident off Cambodia. The S.S. Mayaguez was captured by communists, and the U.S. Marines were sent in to save it. When it was all over, 41 servicemen were dead and one of them was an 18-and-a-half-year-old marine from Lancaster. I had the same feeling 43 years ago that I am having now: What could any one truly know about life when they lose theirs at 18, 19 or 20? The statistics about the 58,312 men and women lost in Vietnam indicate half were 20 or younger. A U.S. Marine from my town of Clifton, N.J., was 18 when he was killed in 1967. In 1969, a kid from New York City named Dan Bullock enlisted with falsified identity papers; the next year, he was killed in action at the age of 15.
Through the years, I have learned a lot about Lynn Blessing. He dropped out of high school; his older brother was wounded in Vietnam in 1968; he was married and had fathered a child; and he enlisted in 1974. I also learned that his body was not recovered in 1975; however, his remains were eventually found and interred in a Lancaster cemetery in 1995. As I was growing up, I was always told to enjoy the things I had: friends, careers, interests, etc. But even after the passing of all these years, I cannot stop feeling a great amount of compassion for Lynn Blessing and everyone like him—everyone who never had the opportunity to enjoy the simplest joys life has to offer.
Rich De Lotto ’78