I couldn’t be happier that President Bush has stood up for having served in the National Guard, because I can finally put an end to all those who questioned my motives for enlisting in the Army Reserve at the height of the Vietnam War. I can’t tell you how many people thought I had signed up just to avoid going to Vietnam. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, I was itching to go over there. I was just out of college and, let’s face it, you can’t buy that kind of adventure. More important, I wanted to do my part in saving that tiny country from the scourge of Communism. We had to draw the line somewhere, and if not me, then who?
But I also knew that our country was being torn asunder by opposition to the war. Who would be here to defend the homeland against civil unrest? Or what if some national emergency should arise? We needed well-trained men on the ready to deal with any situation. It began to dawn on me that perhaps my country needed me more at home than overseas. Sure, being a reservist wasn’t as glamorous, but I was the one who had to look at myself in the mirror.
Even though the National Guard and Army Reserve see combat today, it rankles me that people assume it was some kind of waltz in the park back then. If only. Once a month, for an entire weekend–I’m talking eight hours Saturday and Sunday –we would meet in a dank, cold airplane hangar. The temperature in that hangar would sometimes get down to 40 degrees, and very often I had to put on long underwear, which was so restrictive I suffered from an acute vascular disorder for days afterward. Our captain was a strict disciplinarian who wouldn’t think twice about not letting us wear sneakers or breaking up a poker game if he was in ill humor. Once, they took us into the woods and dropped us off with nothing but compasses and our wits. One wrong move and I could’ve wound up on Queens Boulevard. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to find my way out of there and back to the hangar. Some of my buddies did not fare as well and had to call their parents to come and get them.
Then in the summer we would go away to camp for two weeks. It felt more like three. I wondered if I’d ever see my parakeet again. We slept on cots and ate in the International House of Pancakes. I learned the first night that IHOP’s not the place to order fish. When the two weeks were up, I came home a changed man. I would often burst into tears for no apparent reason and suffered recurring nightmares about drowning in blueberry syrup. If I hadn’t been so strapped for cash, I would’ve sought the aid of a psychiatrist.
In those days, reserve duty lasted for six years, which, I might add, was three times as long as service in the regular army, although to be perfectly honest, I was unable to fulfill my entire obligation because I was taking acting classes and they said I could skip my last year. I’ll always be eternally grateful to the Pentagon for allowing me to pursue my dreams.
Still, after all this time, whenever I’ve mentioned my service in the Reserve during Vietnam, it’s been met with sneers and derision. But now, thanks to President Bush, I can stand up proudly alongside him and all the other guys who guarded the home front. Finally, we no longer have to be embarrassed about our contribution during those very trying years.
LARRY DAVID, who served in the Army Reserve in the 1970’s, appears in the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”