Those ‘Last Draftees’ should also be recognized on Veterans Day

Veterans come in all shapes, sizes, skin tone, attitudes and condition of servitude.

These include those conscripted to serve in the Vietnam-era. A somewhat fictionalized version of their stories is now recounted in a recently released novel titled “Last Draftees” by longtime Las Vegas newspaper reporter Keith Rogers with the aid of Robert Foust, Willie McTear and Larry Keller.

Ironically enough the draft in this country was first used during the Civil War, which supposedly was fought to end slavery, which was made unconstitutional by the 13th Amendment prohibition against involuntary servitude. Conscription is most definitely involuntary servitude.

As the novel attests, many of the Vietnam-era draftees served involuntarily, but many also also served heroically. All nonetheless served. They killed and in turn were killed and wounded.

The novel’s description of foot soldiers slogging through the monsoons, scorching heat, insect infestations and the ever present threat of attack ring true.

It also pulls no punches about the political ambivalence and incompetence, rampant corruption, corporate profiteering and general chaotic nature of the Vietnam Conflict — never an officially declared war, mind you, but real war with real casualties then and later as a result of Agent Orange and PTSD

The book pulls no punches. It uses the language — vulgarities, ethnic slurs and all — used by the officers, enlisted men and draftees on the ground. Here is an excerpt to give an example of what those veterans endured:

All hell broke loose. Two AH-1 Cobra gunships were on the scene. This would be short and sweet. You wouldn’t mess with those deadly sky snakes. Wrong!

One Cobra got too low, and I mean low, some two hundred to one hundred and fifty feet above the jungle. Some of these pilots were certifiably crazy, I’m sure. This guy was at about two hundred feet with everything going — cannon, minigun, rockets. It was a hell of a sight to see. Suddenly three hundred AK-47s opened up at once. The deadly sky snake belched, burped, and then went down. Someone else would have to rescue this poor soul if he survived.

Meanwhile, the Delta Company commander sent his men up the hill. The NVA sent them back down the hill. Hell, I was no hero, I ain’t going up that hill, but I gotta help with the wounded.

I carried one guy to a medevac chopper. It was sitting on the landing zone, blades whirling and throwing sand and pebbles in my face as I loaded the wounded soldier onto the slick. His guts were blown out. it was golden hour. He’d probably make it.

There was a new mission. The brigade commander, a lieutenant colonel, had been circling the hill in a LOH helicopter firing a “blooker” out of the door. That was an M-79, a breech-loading grenade launcher. He hit a tree and shrapnel from the blowback that exploded inside the cockpit, wounding him and the pilot. The chopper went down. That was two today.

Now it was our job to go get them. We made it to the site where the chopper crashed. The pilot was unconscious. Jim was first to the chopper, followed by two other recon members. The lieutenant colonel was wounded, but he was conscious. Two other team members extracted the pilot from the smoking wreckage. I provided rear security. Jungle Jim pulled the lieutenant colonel out of the chopper. Suddenly five NVA soldiers emerged from the dense jungle, AKs blazing. Rounds were humming through the air. Jim, with the colonel over his shoulder, fired once with his free hand hitting the first guy right in the head. Hell of a shot. Then the M60 opened up from the left side sending a hail of .762mm rounds into the gaggle of NVA soldiers, killing them all. We hauled ass with the wounded, back down to where the medevac helicopters were, and loaded them for a twenty-minute flight to the rear. I wouldn’t lie. I’d like to be on one of choppers to the rear area right now.

In my opinion, we lost that battle, and we took hell of a beating.

Delta Company suffered an 80 percent casualty rate. That didn’t mean that 80 percent were killed, but that was how many of those guys that day were disabled by that action, and we lost two choppers. That was a bad day.

I didn’t believe the Armed Forces Radio stations account of that battle: three hundred enemies dead with light casualties for us. I’d say Delta Company got the worst of it, and that was a conservative estimate. The gooks? They scurried off to fight another day.

It was all about body count.

Remember these veterans today and maybe buy a copy of “Last Draftees” to learn their stories.

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