Memorial Day Regret: I Did Not Serve

May 31, 2021 Updated: June 1, 2021


Like many of my generation—and this is not an excuse, merely, shall we say, a “chronological” notation—I never served in the military.

Indeed, thinking myself morally and politically opposed to the Vietnam War, I did what I could to avoid the draft.

1964, the year of my college graduation—I was only twenty that June, or was it still May—it never entered my head I could possibly volunteer for the Army, Navy, Marines, or Air Force. I was going to graduate school, my trusted 2-S exemption in hand.

My only sacrifice, if you can call it that, was that I had to forego a dream I now see as more than a little pretentious, to go to film school in France. My draft board insisted on domestic study so off I went to the Yale School of Drama for a somewhat dubious MFA in playwriting and dramatic literature.

This left me plenty of time to join the ranks on the Washington Mall shouting “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” and “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, Viet Cong is going to win!”, not to mention the ever-popular “Off the pig!”

I could never get myself to say the latter, aware that we were largely privileged middle class (and sometimes more) college kids attacking working class police. The hypocrisy was pretty clear even then. The joke went “What’re you gonna do if someone breaks into your house? Call a hippie?” (That fifty-year old joke still pertains.)

I remember having many arguments about the war, even screaming ones, with my father who served as a flight surgeon in WWII, although not “in theater” as they say, but domestically.

A couple of years later, when I got married young, my exemption continued. On graduation from Yale, I still could avoid the draft. I didn’t even have to burn my card. Or fake an asthma attack. Or bother to chant “Hell, no, we won’t go!” although I probably did on occasion.

I’m not here to debate the Vietnam War. That’s already been done ad infinitum. And my own political views have long since shifted.

What I want to point out is that many of us standing around our barbecues today, flipping ribs, and downing a Sam Adams, do so in a bit of bad faith. That includes me.

In many of us—again that includes me—is the lingering thought that the reasons we did not serve were not entirely idealistic.

A touch of cowardice might have been buried somewhere not too far below the surface.

Maybe more than a touch.

It was so convenient to be against the war. It got you out of a lot of things.

But I remember being startled when one of my college classmates actually died over there not more than a month after we graduated.

I didn’t know him well. He was in a couple of my classes as a freshman and then we went our separate ways. And he was in ROTC, something I obviously abjured.

There were others shortly thereafter. I read about them in the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. Like the first one, they were usually students I didn’t know well, not from my set. They didn’t work on the college paper, as I did, or the literary magazine. They didn’t act in undergraduate productions of Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams.

Now, for the most part, that generation that did not serve has taken over. It’s been a long time since we have had a president who was in the military.

Bill Clinton was typical of the type who did not serve, a protestor elevated to commander-in-chief. Does he have any twinges on Memorial Day? I wonder.

What about Donald Trump, who is so pro-military but did not serve? What does he feel about his lack of service now? It would be interesting to hear. I wouldn’t be surprised if he shares my uneasiness.

It’s rather obvious Joe Biden, who of course never served as well, cares about our fallen in only a perfunctory “political” manner, laying a wreath and so forth. (At least he does that—unlike his clueless Vice-President.)

Instead, this Memorial Day our president is concentrating on what happened in Tulsa 100 years ago, issuing an extremely lengthy, detailed presidential proclamation on the subject that you can be certain Biden—the plagiarist who barely made it through law school—did not write himself.

It seems Memorial Day is just another opportunity for him to stoke the already-raging flames of racial enmity in our country. Oh, well…

For me, and I assume for others of my generation, it is a time for reflection.

But it won’t stop me—and shouldn’t stop us—from celebrating our great country. And enjoying ourselves.

Roger L. Simon is an award-winning novelist, Oscar-nominated screenwriter, co-founder of PJMedia, and now, editor-at-large for The Epoch Times. His most recent books are “The GOAT” (fiction) and “I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn’t Already” (nonfiction). He can be found on Parler as @rogerlsimon

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.