L.A. Progressive article written by PPDC board member Ted Vaill
I was born on the day Hitler visited Paris after the collapse of France in World War II. Not a great day in world history. Two decades later, I was facing an order to report for induction in the U.S. Army to defend my country in the Vietnam War, which then was just ramping up.
Many Americans have faced what I did during their early adult lives. Many of us who fought in the Vietnam War were only made “adults” when the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 after it was argued that “if you are asked to fight and die for your country, you should be given the right to vote.”
If you were born in the American colonies in the 1750s, you were faced in 1776 or 1777 with making a decision re whether or not to join the rebel patriots fighting the British forces controlling their American Colony.
If you were born in the American colonies in the 1750s, you were faced in 1776 or 1777 with making a decision re whether or not to join the rebel patriots fighting
the British forces controlling their American Colony. My ancestor Pelatiah Everett had this decision to make, and he started as a Minuteman at Lexington Green on April 19, 1775, and ended as a lieutenant fighting with George Washington at West Point at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War in November, 1783. He went on to own a hotel and bar and tell war stories.
If you were born in the early 1840s, you were faced with the requirement to fight for your country or for the rebel Confederates in 1861. (Remember “the Red Badge of Courage”?) Unless of course you were wealthy, and you could buy yourself out of military service, as Donald Trump later did in the Vietnam War. He went on to become wealthy, as well as a traitor to his country…
If you were born about 1900, you were asked to go “Over there!” and fight the Germans in World War I. My Grandfather and Great Aunt did this, as an engineer and as a nurse.
If you were born about 1910, you graduated from high school or college as the Great Depression emerged in 1929, and jobs were almost impossible to find. My father faced this challenge. He spent his entire career working for Bakelite, as a pioneer in plastics.
If you were born in the early 1920s, as a young man you suddenly were asked to serve your country after Pearl Harbor, and be taken away from your family (and perhaps never returning) for years in World War II. My uncle was a neurosurgeon, who was saving lives during the Battle of the Bulge.
If you were born in the Depression years of the early 1930s, you might have died at the Chosun Reservoir in what is now North Korea, after Mao’s Chinese forces joined the Communist North Koreans in fighting General Mac Arthur and his United Nations forces.
If you were born during World War II, like me, you were entrapped by military service in Vietnam, and may have found yourself in the jungles of Vietnam, exposed to the Agent Orange provided by your government.
If you were born in the 1980s, you were hit by the trauma of 9/11, followed by the financial meltdown created by George Bush and his GOP colleagues in 2007-2008. Many of our children started their careers during this dramatic decade.
ted vaillThe point of all this is what is happening now with the COVID-19 pandemic has been repeated in one form or another for many centuries before. Those young men and women graduating from high school or college during the impending COVID-19 recession or depression are facing similar bleak job possibilities right now. However, all things must pass, and most Americans in past crises ultimately found their best path in life after the challenging times they were initially facing after graduation ended or receded.
In my case, in January, 1966, faced with an order to report for induction in the Army the next day, I first was able to get sworn in as a member of the District of Columbia Bar by a judge in a special ceremony; then was able to be sworn in as an officer and a gentleman in Navy JAG; and finally was able to visit the Army Induction Center, show them my papers, and tell them:
“If I knew how to salute, you would now have to salute me, as I am an officer and you are not”.
I went on to serve as a Navy JAG lawyer with the Marines at Camp Pendleton, CA (and met my future wife here), then served as a JAG trial lawyer on Guam and throughout the Far East, decided to spend the rest of my life as a lawyer, and ended up a JAG Lt. Commander and a California lawyer for almost 50 years.
Even in difficult times, things can end well…