He was a kid who didn’t want to be a soldier. There was a war in Vietnam and a peace movement in America.
But then he got the government's letter. So he quit his job at a furniture store, quit thinking about college and found himself on a cold December morning in 1970 standing in front of a post office in Sumter, S.C., listening to a soldier read names off a clip board until he heard his: “Clyde Green!”
With that, the 20-year-old kid climbed on the bus with the rest of the recruits and headed to a U.S. Army base where he’d get his hair shorn to stubble, a uniform, shots, a bunk in a barracks and quick indoctrination into the military.
“I didn’t want to join the Army,” Clyde Green said last week. “The Army came and got me.”
When he retires as a chief warrant officer in a ceremony Thursday morning at Ft. McPherson -- after 39 years, 9 months and 15 days of continuous active duty – he will be, by the best accounting, the last U.S. Army draftee who fought in Vietnam.
“It’s hard for us to speak in absolutes,” said Richard Stewart, Chief Historian for the U.S. Army Center of Military History. “We’re not good at keeping records like that. As soon as we say he’s the last, another four will pop up. But he’s certainly one of the last.”
It is hard to imagine now the days when soldiering wasn’t always by choice, when supporting the troops could involve a great deal more than car decals and applauding men in uniform in airports. Often, it meant you might be one of them. It also meant you might go to war and it meant you might not come back.
Clyde Green, 60, is perhaps the last human link to those days.
The Army ended the draft in 1973 and at least one other draftee is still on active duty. But he was drafted later that Green and didn’t serve in Vietnam. Green couldn’t imagine serving in Vietnam either. At the time, his brother Willie was already in the Army, serving in the Signal Corps and stationed at Fort Gordon in Augusta. But Clyde Green wanted no part of this man’s Army.
“When I got that letter I thought my whole world was ending,” he said.
The bus ride, induction and basic training in Fort Knox, Ky., in January confirmed there was indeed a new world order and Green was at the bottom of it -- freezing his fanny.
“It was cold and really tough at first,” he said. “But then I kind of got where I enjoyed it, once I figured out who was in charge.”
The discipline of military life he had feared became a comfort.
"I liked the order," he said. And his uncertainty about what to study in college was suddenly a riddle solved: "I really liked the idea of military intelligence."
For the next four decades the kid who grew up on a farm in South Carolina, whose dreams had once stretched no farther than Orangeburg, S.C., and South Carolina State University, traveled the world and lived a soldier’s life. Over time, the reluctant draftee became the career soldier.
He rose from enlisted man to chief warrant officer in military intelligence and served extended tours in Italy and Korea. He visited 41 countries and posted in places -- the Middle East, Asia and East Africa – he barely knew of, along with two stretches in the place he can least forget: Vietnam.
Green served his first stint there from June 1971 to May 1972 as an “intelligence soldier,” deciphering information gathered in field. He examined captured equipment to determine, for instance, how many rounds an enemy anti-aircraft gun could fire. He interrogated captured enemy soldiers in a war that a growing number of Americans opposed back home.
That experience, as a soldier serving his country without any choice and risking his life, without much appreciation, still stings.
“At the time, we weren’t really loved by the American people,” said Green. “I never personally experienced it, but there was hostility. It was a different time. People weren’t as supportive of the military.”
It would be 23 years before Green returned to Vietnam. By then he had fought in his second war, the Persian Gulf in 1990. And he found America a different place for a returning soldier, even an old draftee, by then a bit grizzled, who had served in Vietnam.
"If you were in uniform in public, people would come up and start talking to you," he said, "and tell you what a good job you’re doing.”
His second trip to Vietnam came with the Vietnam Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (MIA/POW), to seek for any POWs still in captivity and determine what happened to more than 1,700 Americans still missing in action in Southeast Asia. For six years, from 1995 to 2001, he and his team searched, scoured for remains and interviewed scores of witnesses.
They found no POWs but determined the fate of three MIAs, one of them an Army captain who served in Green's unit when he was in Vietnam the first time. They didn't find Capt. Frederick Krupa's remains, but they determined he was killed.
"He was shot in a helicopter and fell out during an extraction, so we were able to list him as KIA [killed in action]," said Green.
At today's ceremony Lt. Gen. Richard P. Zahner will praise the Army's longest serving draftee as a soldier who "has served his country with distinction and has touched the lives of countless men and women in uniform," and who has contributed immeasurably to the Army's Military Intelligence in his 30 years as a Warrant Officer.
Green's family will be there from all over the country: his sons Brian, 29, and Stephen, 27, and wife of 34 years, Veria. He'll live at Ft. McPherson for two more months -- "I have to pay rent now" -- in what fittingly is the oldest house on base, built in 1887.
After that, he's got a farm in North Carolina where he might settle, unless Veria wins that argument and they move to Arizona.
“I hope I can talk her into it,” he said.
And if he doesn’t, it won't be the first time Clyde Green’s plans for the rest of his life changed.
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