By Mike Lander on
I enlisted in the U. S. Army in 1968. Four days after taking my last final exam at City College (CCNY) I began my military service on January 29, 1968, one day before the beginning of the Tet Offensive in South Vietnam. How’s that for timing? During training you had some sense of the war, but it was still far away. When orders came down I was given a choice of assignments in either Korea or Greenland. Greenland would have been the safer and smarter choice, but I guess that I was not that smart.
Needless to say I never made it to my college graduation. As you moved toward the west coast you began to see what it was all about. Thousands and thousands of men moving day and night with their duffel bags to one destination for most, Vietnam. My stop was at Ft. Lewis in Washington State before deployment to Korea. I arrived in Korea minus my foot locker. For anyone who has ever lost luggage on an airline you might appreciate this. The Army put a tracer on my foot locker. It finally arrived about six months later with stamps on it. Danang! So that is about how close I came to serving in Vietnam. I did serve an extended tour of duty in Korea of almost 20 months.
While on duty I received a telegram that there was a medical emergency back home. I was given a 30 day leave to return to New York. Military flights all the way home. I left Kimpo AFB in Korea and landed at Yokota AFB in Japan. It was there that I boarded a C-141 “Starlifter” filled with the dead and wounded from Vietnam. The flight had made an earlier stop in Okinawa and our first stop would now be in Alaska at Elmenforf AFB. Then we took off for the lower 48 making several more stops until the last stop for many, Dover AFB in Delaware. The mortuary. I continued on to McGuire AFB in New Jersey. When my leave was up I had a four day trip back to Korea catching what military hops I could. Arriving back at Yokota I had just missed the one daily direct flight back to Kimpo. I decided to take a local flight. Better to keep moving than to sit in traffic I reasoned. The plane landed in Fukuoka and we deplaned to learn that while I had been back in the States a cholera outbreak had occurred in Korea. So I received a vaccination, but was told that I had to wait several more days to see the effects of this vaccination. I convinced the authorities that I would prefer to wait back at Yokota and they let me go. At Yokota I was running about a 103 degree fever from the shot, but I managed to board that next direct flight back to Kimpo.
When I arrived in Korea there was another telegram waiting for me. Now I could make another trip back home for the funeral. So that is how I spent my R&R time while stationed in Korea. Decades later as a Social Studies teacher in a New York City high school I met with a fellow teacher who was in the Math Department. He had also served in Korea at about the same time that I did, and he was stationed just a few miles north of where I had been. We were talking one day and he told me that he felt guilty for not serving in Vietnam. I realized that I had these same feelings. After all this was our war, our generation’s war. Whether this is survivors guilt or shame I cannot say. I do know that when I meet a Vietnam Veteran today I stop and think that for not him maybe me. Maybe he took my place and now he has emotional/physical scars from the war that he deals with every day of his life. I was fortunate, I guess. I think that only another veteran could understand feelings of guilt for not being there. I would not expect anyone who had not served to understand what I am saying.
The photo for this blog is “Vietnam: The Marine Corps“; South Vietnam c.1967. Crossing the Mekong, the “river of the nine dragons” looking for Charlie.