The Vietnam War in America
Profilers: Stina Gardell, Kevin Carroll, Parsa Hashemiyeh
My name is Tim Hawthorne; I am not a person who served in the Vietnam War. I am coming from a perspective of what is was like a kid growing up during Vietnam. I had an older brother who was at draft age, and luckily for him as we look back in hindsight. He didn’t get drafted because they called the draft off. My father was what we call a hard hat Nixon supporter. In those days, growing up in the 60’s usually what the father’s political philosophies were, most part what the 1960s housewives would follow. That was what was best for the family that’s what she believed. As my brother became draft eligible, we had a political split in our house. My mother became very anti war, where my father growing up in WW2, in which he skipped classes so he could get drafted, and join the military and fight in WW2. He wanted to fight for his country so badly that he was sacrificing school, and he was getting ready to go into war. His feeling was serve your country. My mother, she developed a different feeling, the presidential election in 1972 was against Richard Nixon and George McGovern, two polar opposites of how the Vietnam War should be fought. And my mother voted for McGovern, and that created a lot of tension in the house because of the difference in political ideas at that time
– How did your mom expose her antiwar attitude?
She didn’t get tear gas lobbed at her, but she became the ideal, I don’t want to say hippie, but she wore beads, she got her hair different, she was very outspoken about her anti-war feelings. That was a total 180 in our house. For a lot of people in the United States, the Vietnam War was something you heard about in the new, something you head about from neighbors, you heard some tragedies and stuff but for a lot of people it was business as usual.
– How was your brother drafted?
Like I was talking, there used to be a thing toward the end of the Vietnam War, which was like a lottery. They would have birth dates put into a lottery thing, and someone would reach out and pull a number and if that birthday was first pulled that would become number one. If your birthday was on that date you were drafted number one. My brother, Pat, who’s nine years older was just out of high school and he got the draft number 52. Which in those days if your number was under 100 you were pretty much going to be called to serve in Vietnam. And so that threw a lot of anxiety in our house growing up. I can remember my mom crying because all the young men in those days were looking to see what their draft number was going to be. Because toward the end of the Vietnam War, the consciousness was this thing is not what we all wanted, this is not what the American society is looking forward to. Like I said, I’m just a little kid and I’m seeing the trauma my mother was going through of having to watch her son go off to Vietnam, she watched that with a number of neighborhood kids do that.
I want to say that my brother knew right away that he had the number 52, March 12 was number 52. And, after that they started scrambling around, there was other options. You could serve in the reserve there was an Air National Guard here in the valley in Van Nuys. My father knew some guys there, and he was really getting ready to sign a six-year commitment to the reserve. The reserve is where you would serve 2-3 weeks during the year and some weekends, training and being ready. If you were called to active duty they would use the reserves. Very similar to what they did in Iraq and Afghanistan, they called a lot of reserves to active duty to serve.
– What was the reaction of people who got drafted?
I mean those guys, were seeing what was happening in the war. Those guys they had friends who were coming back from the war.
– Which year was this?
Pat was in 1971, was when they gave him his number and they called off the draft in 1972. They only pulled the low draft numbers before 1972. I don’t know any of his friends who wanted to serve in the war. And that’s kind of the whole thing too, lot of the people who ended up serving in the war, like my father had friends from the Air National Guard so he had the ability to get my brother, to do that instead of going to Vietnam. Lot of the guys who ended up going didn’t have the “ins” to get out, or didn’t have student deferment. Guys who went to college you had a student deferment you deferred you didn’t have to go serve in the war. Lot of the guys who ended up serving in the war, there was a racial thing. There were a lot of black, African American young men fighting that war because they didn’t have the means or the ways of avoiding it.
– What was your first connection to the war, and did your parents ever try to talk to you or your brothers about it?
My parents never really explained, they never sat us down and talked about it. My first incident of really feeling the tragedy of the Vietnam War was when I was in sixth grade, and I had a friend named Bill and I went to his house to play afterwards. And I had no idea who Bill was, his Mom was home, we were doing things in his house. He took me into his parents’ room, and he opened the closet, and there was his father’s uniform. And he was in the Air Force and he was shot down and never found and that was like “wow”. My friend, that was the first real tangible sense of how scary. I was scared; this kid’s dad is not there for him. As a little kid you process it differently. But seeing the uniform, which was still in perfect condition from the cleaners and he had his hat on top of the mantle. Bill never saw his father, really was very young when his father was killed.
– Were the issues of the war discussed in your school?
Any curriculum or any discussion about the war. That was not part of any curriculum. Of course this was in elementary school, what they did in higher education was definitely discuss the war. On college campuses they absolutely talked about it, because they were upside down. But no, you know that was the weird thing about that war, a lot of stuff in society went on as normal. Little kids went to school, little kids did their homework, little kids played their games, moms and dads were moms and dads. And your attachment to the war was what was seen on TV at night and what was seen in the paper. After that I mean a lot of society moved on as if there was no war going on at all. It was a crazy place.
– How was the Vietnam War different from other wars?
Well there was a difference because WW2 we had been attacked and we were fighting to preserve our country. Vietnam War, I mean if you didn’t have someone fighting in the Vietnam War it was life as usual. People went to work, you heard about the war, and I’ll get into that later about the news and how the media covered the war. But I can remember reading or talking to our next door neighbor who served in the war and he was on leave in Hawaii and he had just spent a 6 month tour on ground in Vietnam and they went to Hawaii on leave and they were just amazed at how everything was normal. I mean here you got these terrible things happening in the Vietnam War but not too far away from this land that no one really knew anything about, life for many in the United States was normal. When WW2 was going on, the whole country was consumed and dedicated to that war effort. Vietnam War was a totally different struggle, there was huge protests and riots so you didn’t have a country unified for one purpose, in the Vietnam era.
First Connection to the War
– How did the media depict the war??
The media really, government really dictated a lot of what we saw in the news. And it was like a scoreboard everyday, we would come home from school and parents would sit down and watch TV and you would have your segment about the Vietnam War, but they always had a score. How many lives were lost, you know the United States lost 27 men, South Vietnamese lost 120 men, Viet Cong lost 400 men, so it was like a score. Yeah! We were winning this war.
– How did the media’s coverage on the war affect you?
As for a kid, growing up watching the news with my parents. They showed battles, they had a lot of embedded reporters, a lot of anchormen that we see some of the top anchormen, they were actually embedded and they would show the wars and what was going on. I get the feeling looking back, that a lot of it was filtered.
– What specific images do you remember from the war, for example the “Napalm Girl” Picture?
I saw it in Life magazine. So now the media started the antiwar sentiment. They were really fighting the government in terms of getting the real horrors of this war to the American public. And as a kid you’re seeing it and you go oh my gosh, “Mommy what happened to her, why is she running around like this” and that was part of the idea. And, I forget the name of that town
-My Lai, the My Lai massacre?
Yeah, it was tough, messed up. I can remember the end of the war watching it on TV, and the people trying to get out of Saigon. They were showing broadcasts of that and the next big media thing after the war was to release the POWs. And seeing these guys, I was about 12 then, but watching this and seeing these guys coming off this plane looking a lot like skeletons. John McCain whose one of our senators from Arizona, and was a presidential candidate. He was a POW in the war, they look back and show old films of him when he got back and was greeted by his family. It was a lot of crazy stuff, especially for a kid. I’ve captured in mind a lot of graphic images; there was another graphic image of a South Vietnamese officer shooting a man. I remember that picture as a kid, and it just “wow” as a kid that’s pretty shocking and that media was out there.
– How do you think the media’s coverage affected those at home?
Watching that on TV made people think “wow!” this is weird this is messed up. A lot of these guys are coming home and they are not the same. Like our neighbor next door, Bruce, wasn’t the same when he came home, he was different. We rarely saw him come out of the house at all. And the moms didn’t talk a whole lot about what was going on. It took him a while and then he went away and I never saw him again.
– Tell us more about what your community has done to honor those who died in Vietnam.
It’s now a beautiful little memorial, called Veterans Park. When I was a kid, there was a little park set up between these streets; it’s a little grass strip. When I was a kid that’s where the names of men who served in the Vietnam War who were from Granada Hills, which is this community, that didn’t come back their plaques were on the back of this memorial. I can remember looking at these names as a high school kid, because my high school was right down there and you’d go right by it. But it became a state of disrepair.
– Was this something that the community did?
I don’t know how it started. It had to be something that the community did. There is a VFW post in town, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and about five years ago when Iraq and Afghanistan stuff started going on, they got the approval of another non-profit organization called the Granada Hills Rotary Club they just started refurbishing this whole park. Because it was an eyesore, it became an eyesore, it had graffiti on it and no one really knew what was there. And now it’s an area where people meet and I’d like to see if they have all the names of all the guys who did not come back from all the wars, I’m not sure it’s been a while. Now you’ll see it’s a nice little park it’s got the memorial, it’s maintained, there is the MIA/POW flag that flies with the American flag and the Californian flag.