Rupert Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 21, 2010

Misstatement on Vietnam service affront to memory

A candidate for U.S. Senate candidate in Connecticut, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, is catching heat because he “misspoke” of his military service during the Vietnam War recently.

Blumenthal actually served in the Marine Reserves after receiving as many as five deferments from the military draft. He never served in Vietnam but in a recent speech said, “We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam.”

I too, served in the days of Vietnam. But I am not a war veteran.

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The Vietnam War had become very unpopular, even in the Bible Belt, by the early 1970s. I thought it best to join the local Mississippi National Guard unit. I was not alone. There were many of us who for various reasons chose to guard our country and state against enemies both foreign and domestic by serving in the Mississippi National Guard.

My reason was draft dodging. Make no bones about it. At that point in history, one joined the “Guard” to not go to war, unlike today when anybody with a Boy Scout uniform is subject to be shipped to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Many National Guard units were activated during periods of natural disasters, riots or threats thereof, but few were sent to shooting wars.

We were sent off to train alongside the regular Army guys, first to basic training and then advanced training. We then came home and met and trained during  annual two-week summer training or monthly weekend meetings.

We played war games that some never took seriously. The threat of going to war wasn’t real at the time and much of the equipment handed down by the Army was obsolete. We were the original weekend warriors.

But it was a different day and the Cold War was also going on. Troop numbers were as important, or more so, than readiness. Our numbers were part of those used by our government claiming readiness to go to war with Russia or China or whoever they claimed the enemy to be.

Although we didn’t see war, we served our country and state and that is certainly nothing of which to be ashamed. There are many ways to serve and not all are on the front lines of a shooting war.

But after I saw friend Jimmy Hinton come home in a box in 1971 following multiple tours of duty in Vietnam, I could never compare my military service with his.

Blumenthal shouldn’t have either.