The seniors in our 1965 Bartlett High School class were archetypal of the era, anxious to graduate and make our mark in the world or take advantage of parental aspirations desiring their baby-boomer cherubs to earn another sheepskin at the college level. Vietnam was an obscure apprehension, except for a few senior boys that received an induction notice from Uncle Sam.
In 1965 we squandered money wearing Indian ‘bleeding’ madras shirts, shirts that actually ‘bled’ out all the colors if you were stupid enough to get caught in a downpour. Hooded parkas were ‘cool’, usually charcoal or maroon in hue and made of nylon that refused to ‘breathe’ like good old cotton. We wore slacks; blue jeans were mostly for farm boys, yet denim was quickly becoming a rebellious unwashed symbol of Beatniks leisurely transmuting into Hippies.
We read the Bible in our homerooms and prayed whenever the hell we wanted to. Our principal, Mr. Barnes, still blistered rowdy butts with a paddle-board and knew the same butts would be blistered again when the student went home. Parents supported the principal, the teachers, and an educational system that cultivated students to be inventive and productive without thinking the world, or the government, owed them a darn thing.
We respected the flag, our elders, police officers, and really didn’t think too much about politicians other than if elected they were supposed to represent us and not their political party. Some of us married, most of us did not. The fabric of society seemed to be woven into a neat little security blanket that protected as well as provided, yet very few of us possessed the insight to grasp the nasty fact that the fabric of American society was slowly but surely unraveling.
Being drafted into the military in 1965 didn’t cause the same dread as in the late 60’s when an unpopular war, a biased media, student riots, and a surly citizenry perverted patriotism into a vile virtue. In the late 60s, blacks hit the streets and burned down communities as would any American continuously treated like a third class citizen. Assassinations and political upheavals became the norm as 1970 approached.
I finally came home in 1970 after 30 months in Southeast Asia, fighting a war even our government no longer cared to fight. Vietnam was and still is a big part of my life. Wars may be declared ‘over’ but for soldiers and airmen and seamen the war and its memories remain embedded in our hearts and souls forever. We have heart-to-heart chats about war among ourselves, but the general public just doesn’t need to go there.
High school is a distant memory; Vietnam is not. Too many classmates came home traumatized and maimed, too many didn’t come home. So we became John Q. Citizen again knowing sentiments and veracity kept us a willing outcast knowing what we know.
I miss the ‘good old days’ when right versus wrong and good versus evil was a clear-cut decision based on common sense, reading a Bible verse in homeroom, or praying to God that you and your classmates made it home. Tom Brokaw tagged the WWII era as ‘The Greatest Generation’, and deservingly so. But every generation has answered the call to duty and paid the supreme sacrifice if required to, for their families, for their country; and yes, even for Beatniks to have the freedom to convert into blue jean wearing Hippies, in denim either washed or unwashed.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.