My name is William Lewis and I served in the army from 1970–1972. My father served as a helmsman aboard the Battleship Texas for the invasion of Normandy during World War II and was injured at Cherbourg when the ship was hit by a 280mm shell. My uncle fought in the Battle of the Bulge under General Patton; however, he never once spoke of the war. Growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Western NY, the fathers of many of my school friends as well as many neighbors had served during the War.
During the mid-late 60’s I was in college and surrounded by the antiwar movement. I didn’t support the war nor did I want to be drafted. This was a time when many of my classmates openly discussed draft avoidance options such as grad school, contrived medical conditions, or moving to Canada. However, the draft did not give me a choice. I drew number 62 in the draft lottery in December 1969. As much as I did not want to go, my respect for those who had sacrificed their lives before me made me decide to take it. In March 1970, I was drafted.
After training at Fort Dix, NJ, and Fort Carson, CO, I received my orders for Vietnam and arrived in Cam Ranh Bay in January 1971. Although I was not airborne trained, I was assigned to the 173rd Airborne as a PLL (Prescribed Load List) Clerk for an engineering unit. My job was ordering and managing vehicle repair parts for the unit.
I would not exactly call my days in Vietnam “fun”. There were many frightening nights interspersed with occasional lighter moments. Now, after almost 50 years, I find that the darker memories fade, and the lighter ones become more focused.
Returning home after Vietnam was also difficult due to the strong antiwar sentiment. Upon returning home, many soldiers would hide our uniforms, let our hair grow, and rarely acknowledge that we had served in Vietnam. It was years before I could “come out of the closet” and admit I was a Vietnam Vet.