Sunday, December 03, 2006

Vietnam veteran

Paul Morin of Chicopee MA, the National Commander of the American Legion, claims "I am a Vietnam veteran", but according to the Boston Globe the closest he got to Vietnam was Fort Dix, N.J.

Morin says neither the US government nor the Legion itself makes the distinction between "Vietnam veteran", and "Vietnam-era veteran". Convenient for him! The government makes no such distinction because it only needs a single term to describe that group of veterans eligible for particular benefits--those who served for at least six months between 1964-75, regardless of their location.

Morin was in the '71 lottery and drew number 36. This meant he was "facing the draft in '72". Ordered to report for induction in June Morin enlisted in July of '72. By the time he finished basic training in fall of '72 the chances of him being sent to Vietnam were slim to nil. It was late in the war and we were getting out. The total troop level in Vietnam in '72 was only about 24K (table at the bottom, 1972), down from 156K in '71, and 334K in '70.

I was in the '72 lottery, "facing the draft in '73". It turned out no one from this lottery was drafted regardless of their number, since the last draft order was in '72, for the same reason--we were getting out of Vietnam and were out in '73. So I have never met a Vietnam vet as young as me, and notice when someone close to my age makes the claim. When one of my childhood friends, two years younger than me, died, his obituary said he was a Vietnam veteran. But he could not have been in Vietnam during the war--he was too young.

My older brother was in the Navy in the late sixties and "Vietnam" is on his grave marker, even though the closest he got to Vietnam during his service was Rekjavik, Iceland. Evidence that indeed the government doesn't make the distinction and fair enough as the marker was a government benefit. For Morin to stand in front of real veterans who know better, and say "I am a Vietnam veteran" is another story. It is the height of gall. It's honorable enough to be a Vietnam-era veteran, but disingenuous to claim more than that.

As time passes and people get vague on the chronology, more people like Morin can take advantage and conflate wartime service with in-country service. If he were the head of the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce maybe it wouldn't matter but as National Commander of the American Legion? Come on. He's a phony.

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