Aubrey Woods: Serving your country: Life’s about timing


My birth date is July 5, 1957.

It’s important to me because it means in the summer of 1975, just shortly after graduating from high school, I turned 18.

Also on April 30 of that same year, the Vietnam War had ended with the fall of Saigon. I still remember watching the news footage from those final chaotic days.

During the nearly two-decades-long conflict, the ranks of the military had been filled by draftees — and those who voluntarily decided to serve their country.

The last draft call had been on Dec. 7, 1972, when the decision was made to go to an all-voluntary military. It was a relief for many boys, including myself, who were still in high school.

But from some reason, which I can’t remember, the Select Service System still assigned draft numbers for all men born in 1954, 1955 and 1956. That meant they had to register for the draft.

Shortly after turning 18, I headed off to the local recruiting station, which happened to be located on 10th Street on the west side of Indianapolis, conveniently just across from my alma mater, Ben Davis High School.

A recruiter informed me since I had just turned 18, I was not required to sign up for the draft. If I wanted to join anyway, he said he could have me signed up and in downtown Indianapolis ready to be shipped off the next day.

I, of course, politely thanked him and said I planned to go to college.

I have often wondered how different my life would have been had I enlisted and gone off to serve my country.

Like many my age, I had watched the nightly news and saw the horrors of the war. I also had watched the protesters who were opposed to the U.S. sending our men and women to some far-off foreign nation for what they viewed as a pointless war.

My father had served in the Army during the Korean War, and both my grandfathers had served in the Army during World War I.

I wished I would have talked to both my grandfathers more about their service, but I did talk to my dad some about his time in the military. He went AWOL at least two times because he sorely missed his home in Gainesville, Kentucky. He never made it to Korea.

He did get as far as a base on Hokkaido Island in far northern Japan, where it was as cold as you know what. It was near the end of the war in 1953 and he spent several months there because he overslept and missed his unit’s deployment to Korea.

That has always left me pondering something else: What would have happened if he had gone to Korea and not come home?

My conclusion? Life’s about timing.

Would I have gone off to war if drafted? Yes.

Would I have joined voluntarily? I can honestly say probably not.

As a journalist, I have had the privilege of telling the stories of many local veterans, including some who were at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, or Normandy on June 6, 1944, during World War II.

Each story makes me appreciate the sacrifices they and their families made so they could serve their country.

I’ve also had the chance to attend and write about many Memorial Day and Veterans Day services here in Jackson County.

Sadly, one of those events — Brownstown’s annual Memorial Day service — was canceled this year mainly because of a lack of attendance and organizers. Hopefully, it will return for Memorial Day in 2024.

I try to thank veterans for their service every chance I get and must confess I don’t always do it.

A good opportunity to thank a veteran for his or her service is underway right now at the Jackson County Fairgrounds east of Brownstown.

That’s where the Vietnam Veterans Memorial replica known as The Wall That Heals is sitting.

I’m willing to bet there will be a veteran or two there with their families just any time you want to visit. They might even tell you a little something about their service.

The wall, which is open to all day or night, will be there until 1:45 p.m. Sunday when it is taken down and heads off to Middletown in northwestern Henry County.

Aubrey Woods is editor of The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected].

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