Couple watching Vietnam War on television, 13 February 1968

Lynn Novick and Ken Burns’s The Vietnam War was again the topic of discussion today, some of it in person and some via email. I had a talk with someone who recounted to me their relative’s experience with the local draft board. When the Wilson Administration and Congress established the Selective Service in May 1917 they intentionally placed draft boards under the jurisdiction of local civilians. The idea was to avoid what had occurred just over fifty years earlier during the Civil War with the draft riots. Gone were the military head-counters, who were henceforth replaced with local leaders. These local officials sometimes knew the people about whom they would be making life-altering decisions. I suppose both systems had their benefits and drawbacks. The doughboy from Yonkers who is the subject of the documentary we are making for the Great War centennial served on his local draft board during the Second World War.

Another conversation I had was with an old friend of mine who told me a story I had never heard before. This person is in his mid-50s, about six years older than me, and thus with more first-hand memories of the Vietnam War Era. After he shared this with me I asked if I could post it here and he said yes. Here it is:

My first job was when I was about 10 or 11 and my family was living in New Jersey. It had to be either ’72 or ’73. A guy would pick up a bunch of us kids in a van and we would be dropped off in communities trying to sell subscriptions to the New York Times. One night, as I started my sales pitch, the man at the door cut me off and invited me into the townhouse as he and his wife were eating TV dinners and staring at the TV. The wife was crying the whole time I was there (not long) and they were watching the evening news hoping to catch a glimpse of their son or hear anything about his unit. In between the husband trying to console his wife he was explaining to me that he really wasn’t interested in signing up for the newspaper but asked me to stay until there was a commercial so he didn’t miss anything. I can only imagine that they ate dinner like that every night their son was oversees. That was a very profound and frightening moment for me and I am surprised that it had slipped into the recess of what’s left of my memory about the war.

(image/Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report via Wikimedia Commons)