November 1988 | Volume 39, Issue 7
When my daughter is old enough to ask about Vietnam, my answer to the question “What should we tell our children about Vietnam?” will include many of the points assembled in Bill McCloud’s article. If she asks what I was doing then, I will tell her that I never fought there. Instead, in the early 1970s, I was having the educational time of my life in college, with a comfortably high draft-lottery number in the 300s. None of my friends or acquaintances went off to war.
This changed when I received a letter from my mother, along with a newspaper clipping from our local paper. I immediately recognized the face of Barry Cunningham, who had always sat behind me in homeroom during junior high. Barry’s proximity in homeroom had been a stroke of alphabetical fiat. Exchanging stories and wisecracks with this cherubic, bright, and diminutive lad before the rigors of morning classes had been a welcome eye opener each day. Years later, upon seeing his face in the newspaper, I immediately guessed that he had won some special scholarship. After all, it had become customary for my mother to send such clippings of former classmates, and Barry was one who exuded talent. Instead, the clipping informed me that Barry Cunningham, nineteen-year-old Marine recruit, had recently been killed in Vietnam. It was then I realized that Barry had taken my place in a war that neither of us had ever dreamed of fighting.