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‘Conscription ribbon’ would honor draftees
by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Tony Cook doesn’t think he’s asking too much.
Just a little recognition for some soldiers who did their duty.
Cook wants a new military award, a “conscription ribbon” for Vietnam War-era draftees.
The ribbon would be awarded to all men — “really, boys,” Cook said — who were drafted and served honorably in the U.S. military during the war years.
Cook says in fact all he’s asking for is a “good conduct ribbon” for Vietnam War-era draftees “because we did not need to be pardoned.”
Cook has no beef with President Jimmy Carter’s decision to issue a blanket pardon to all those men who fled the draft, saying that was his right as president.
But, he noted, that was the only time “draft dodgers have ever been pardoned en masse.” That makes the draftees who served “an identifiable group of veterans.”
“I feel that our country should recognize the men who met their legal and moral obligations when they were summoned to active military duty.”
“Clearly, being forced to serve in the military during a time of war is not the same as volunteering,” he added.
Fred Scheffler served in the U.S. Army in Korea and later volunteered for multiple tours in Vietnam. “I had a lot of different opportunities to see the build-up and the wind-down,” he said.
He recently met Cook and has taken up the cause.
“I look at the recognition of those before them, in World War II — the popular war, when no one dodged the draft. No one welcomed (Vietnam-era soldiers) back.”
“It’s a disgrace that the United States took a generation of young men, fielded them, and then felt that the recognition that was given to their fathers and grandfathers shouldn’t be given to them,” he said.
“I think the ribbon is something that should in fact be accorded, it should be approved.”
Though he left the service in the mid-1970s, Scheffler has kept in close contact with other veterans, recently chairing the Kitsap County Veterans Assistance Board. He is a past district Commander of the American Legion in the third district in Washington.
A little history
Cook was drafted in November 1965 and spent a year in South Vietnam in 1966-1967.
He said the idea of a conscription ribbon occurred to him in November 2008.
“Our elected governmental leaders need to recognize that one unintended consequence of the pardon was, figuratively speaking, a slap in the face to all Vietnam War draftees and their families.”
The entire issue could have been handled easily, he said. When in 1977 Carter pardoned those who fled the draft, he could have thanked those who served.
Cook admits he’s a little peeved about more recent events, saying, “draft dodgers aren’t patriots or anti-war heroes as one national veterans organization is currently proclaiming.”
Veterans For Peace, he said, has declared them “anti-war heros and allows them to be associate members,” Cook said.
“I’ve yet to hear one draft dodger thank the man who took his place in the Vietnam War-era draft.”
Cook isn’t just talking about the ribbon — he’s pushing for it.
In 2010, Arizona Sen. John McCain, himself a Vietnam War hero, joined with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski to request a review of Cook’s idea.
Deputy Under Secretary William J. Carr wrote back, simply stating “the department cannot support Mr. Cook’s request.”
“Why not?” Cook asked.
Cook also took his case to the source, in 2011 writing to former President Jimmy Carter.
He had written to Carter on several previous occasions, but never received a response.
This time he received a brief handwritten note on a copy of his original letter.
“My understanding,” Carter wrote, “is that those who served in the Viet Nam War earned a service medal.”
In Cook’s opinion, that’s not good enough.
Through the Vietnam War years more than 1.1 million men were drafted into service.
Those who would like to lend a hand in pursuing the ribbon can contact Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Mark Couhig at email@example.com.