Last Saturday I took our daughter Amelia to the airport. She flew from Atlanta to Chicago, then on to Hong Kong. After four days there she departed for Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City.
She’s taking a 30-day course to be certified to teach English as a second language, and will do so somewhere in Asia for up to a year. Had this been 35 years ago I would not have been so anxious to take her to the airport. At least not to put her on a plane pointed Southeast Asia.
Indeed, since Amelia confirmed her plans earlier this year I have not been completely at home with the thought she was going to Vietnam. It is the aftereffect of remembering things from my teens I would just as soon forget.
Back then we were training young people, but not to teach. We were sending our beautiful and fine young boys to fight a war they would not be allowed to win. Some came home in flag-draped coffins. Some walked off the plane under their own power but were never truly home.
They could not forget what they saw or what they did. And we let them founder far too long before we honored their service.
As a family we watched the nightly news, so from the age of 13 I had a front-row seat to the war. By the age of 16 I was certain of few things, but I say without hesitation I was not longing to be drafted. It was not politics or morality that drove me – at that age I was confused and, yes, afraid.
Still, the year I turned 18 I registered for the draft and held my breath. That was the first year that lottery numbers were assigned but there was no conscript. My number was 284, which meant the odds of my being drafted would have been nil.
I don’t know what I would have done had I been a parent during that time. My father strongly and frequently urged me to consider volunteering to serve in Vietnam; an admonition bedeviling to me. Was he seeing the same images on the news that I was?
Those boyhood fears were never realized but since the word Vietnam has the mnemonic effect that conjures images of pain and death. What stands out for me here is how deep my memories go and I was never there. It’s impossible for me to imagine what it must have been like for too many of our young men whose lives were taken or forever circumscribed by their experience.
I have no idea how many sons of Sandy Springs served in Vietnam. To the best of my knowledge none of my classmates from Riverwood High School’s class of 1974 were there. The only one I know of for certain was a neighbor’s son much older than me.
Were the political motivations to aid South Vietnam worth the young lives it took? Gandhi said: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”
A friend traveled to Vietnam 10 years ago with his wife. This gent has seen some of the great places in this world and raved about the beauty of what he saw. And our daughter is not one to rush pell-mell into a danger zone, regardless of her zeal for adventure.
So our darling daughter, spread your wings, and go where your spirit leads. But I pray it never takes you to a place so horrendously unforgettable.
Jim Osterman has lived in Sandy Springs since 1962. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.