Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Who Fights Our Wars? Southern Men


I don't know the soldiers in this photo, but I do know that if we could find the home address of every one of them, two out of three would be from the eleven states of the Old South or from the West--between the Rockies and the Sierras.

At the reunion dinner of the 1-70th Armor last Saturday night, those who attended were mostly officers plus a few senior enlisted men.  We served together from 1975 to 1979, the first years of the all-volunteer Army following the end of the draft.

Military service has always been more honored in the South than in the rest of our country, but until the Vietnam War, the draft meant that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines came from all over the country.  I enlisted in 1972, during the last year of the draft.  Already, anti-war sentiment was so strong in the Northeast where I am from, that I seldom heard a Boston accent on a military base.

By the time the draft was over and I was a tank commander in the 1-70th Armor, the military had become a very Southern organization.  More so among the officers than among the enlisted men.

In 1980, 1407 students graduated from Harvard University.  Two of them joined the military.  Five of them took blue collar jobs.  One of them was an apprentice to a some who hand-built chairs.

But in the same year, more than 40% of the male graduates of Baylor were in ROTC and joining a branch of the military.  I served with guys from Alabama and Georgia who said almost half the boys in their graduating class joined the military.

A total of 371 students graduated with me from Stoneham High School near Boston in 1971.  A total of 12 of us ever served in the military.  Two of us enlisted during the Vietnam War.

As I met and reconnected with people at the 1-70th Armor reunion on Saturday night, everyone I spoke to was from the South or the West.  Many of them served in Vietnam.  All of them began their training to become military officers during the Vietnam War even if the war ended by the time they were commissioned.

On Sunday morning when the reunion ended, I rode northeast from Gettysburg back home to Lancaster.  As far as I know, I was the only one who would be North of the Mason-Dixon Line by the next day.  Many of the men at that reunion survived jungle warfare in Vietnam, then we all waited together for the Soviet tanks just over the East-West German border to fire the first shots of World War 3 right at us.  Some of them went on to serve in the Gulf War.  A few of us even went to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But as much as I am Yankee and would live in New York or Paris if I could live anywhere, I have spent more than 40 years admiring the way the American South has supplied our nation with soldiers and leaders, especially since the end of the draft.

I have even developed a taste for grits and gravy--but I am NOT going to go as far as eating chitterlings, trotters or listeners.  To me, pigs are ham and bacon--that's it!