New Mexico & the Vietnam War: Portrait of a Generation
Edited interview transcript
(Note: this is the full transcript of the Loftis interview, edited only for readability)
Well it was very, very strange, in 1968-67, when the draft calls were 80,000 a month, everybody was concerned. You go to check your grades at the professor’s door and if a failing mark you hear: “Oh no! I’m going to Vietnam now!"
So, there was a lot of contemplation to go down and try to sign up or wait and see what happens. I sort of waited and then was drafted. And then because I was a college graduate they allowed me to take a test and they said you can go to officer candidate school. So that’s how I got started.
It was sort of anti-climactic, because they give you a notice just to take a physical, then you take the physical, then you pass it, and then you start getting serious. You know that you are on the block. This was before the lottery.
A memorable moment was standing there in the line where you had to give your analysis test. The guy next to me I knew was a football player. You know a 6 foot five 280 pound physical monster. And, he flunked his physical, even though he was a star on the football team. And I passed mine with flying colors. He didn't have anything to worry about. I did.
"You know you are not in charge anymore. Uncle Sam now is in charge."
In terms of the draft. Well you know, what do you do? Your life is totally up to someone else. You know you are not in charge anymore. Uncle Sam now is in charge.
I didn’t come from a military family, but I wasn’t scared. There is a lot of time between when you enter the military and when you enter combat. But you know you might end up being a truck driver. Or a clerk, or someone that's not in harm’s way. No, I wasn’t afraid. Dear Don, Uncle Sam wants you. Lot of technical stuff in the draft notice about where to show up and how to dress etc. But the big news was you're drafted. It said report to the Houston in Processing Station and don’t bring any clothes, don’t bring your social security card. And, be prepared not to return home that night.
It was a charter flight to Vietnam, it left out of Oakland. And, I arrived New Year’s Day. When we landed the head stewardess said, “Well welcome to Saigon, happy friggin New Year”. And everybody sort of... well, there wasn’t a lot of cheering for New Years’. But when we arrived, you’re familiar with war stories from your training, you think you’re going to get a helmet on and crawl off the plane into a ditch and there will be combat everywhere.
THROUGH THE LENS
Photos of and by Don Loftis
Most of these photographs were taken with a Kodak camera given to Don as a gift from his grandmother. The camera stopped working when monsoon season began.
"WHAT WAR IS"
Poem written and read by Don Loftis
Listen to the old men talk at the bar
About their time in Nam
"Oh it was bad..oh I can't believe I am
I don't remember me or them but I remember the people.
The day she came
By a call for a medevac so I left the shack
Popped smoke and wondered where the heck she was
Called in the bird and ran out to say she was near
Then I heard the moped screaming at me
-We're here, we're here... she
PapaSan drove the bike
And she held on to his back.
Tears streamed down his face… rage… fear
"Oh my god help her… help her"
I ran to her and saw her face… frozen in shock
Drooling fluids from her soul… too hurt
To cry... too much horror for one so young
Yet alive, aware and scared that those there to aid
Were the same who delivered her pain.
"It's OK, it's OK… I am here to help"
As I reached for her tiny arm to help her from the bike,
I then saw the skin come off in my hands... charred to her skinny bones
She looked at me and cried, her eyes as large as her mouth that could not scream.
I grabbed her waist and felt the same melted mess and fell to my knees to not drop her.
The young medic came running with a bag to put her in
He puked and cried as we collected her
Then she and PapaSan got on the bird.
As it flew away I sat down, looked at my hands and cried
She wasn't a hero… she got no medal but her country took her life.