As we again prepare to honor our war dead this Memorial Day, we are long past the time when we should have recognized the largest group to have died in Vietnam: the 17,617 draftees. These young men were little more than children. They did not volunteer; no one ever asked if they agreed with the war. Yet they answered the call and ultimately paid with their lives.
The 1960s and early ‘70s were turbulent, uncertain times, with thousands of Americans not only participating in violent war protests, but also avoiding the draft. While the majority of our country did not agree with the dissenters’ arguments against the war, the protesters did have some valid concerns. Unlike World War II, the Vietnam struggle was just about politics. U.S. interests were never so threatened in Vietnam that such a massive, lengthy investment of U.S. wealth and lives was warranted. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon all bear some responsibility for the Vietnam War.
From 1964 to 1973, 2.2 million young American men were drafted into the military, with 17,617 dying in that foreign land — and for what? In 1975 we literally turned tail and ran, leaving everything to the insurgents.
It is time that we as a society accepted responsibility for not only all the dead of Vietnam, but particularly the 17,617 draftees on the wall. They were indeed the sacrificial lambs of the Vietnam War.
JAMES W. ANDERSON
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