ROCKFORD (WREX) — December 1st marked 50 years since the Vietnam War Draft Lottery. A process that would pull millions of young men out of the United States, and place them directly onto the front lines.
Dick Nielsen, a Rockford resident, served six tours for the Navy in Vietnam.
Nielsen says he wanted to carry the Navy tradition on in his family. By chance, he enlisted about two weeks before his draft card came.
"I still have my draft card by the way, proof I didn't burn the darn thing. "
James Newbury, on the other hand, says he knew he'd be drafted. So instead, he enlisted in hopes of a shorter tour.
"I volunteered for the service, that way I didn't have to do three years," says Newbury. "I only did two years."
This was was a new frontier for loved ones at home to navigate. For the first time, they had a front row seat.
"For our parents, they could watch on TV and hear the body count from every excursion," says Nielsen.
But as Nielsen and Newbury left their homes to face the unknowns of war, a second battle broke out. This one happening back here in the states. Draft card burning, protests, and unrest mounting across the country as people aggressively opposed the US's involvement.
"I was really mad at this country," says Newbury. "I really was. For what the students were doing and the other stuff. I was mad at them."
As anxiety mounted in the United States, thousands of miles away, soliders like Newbury spent days on end embeded in the jungle. They never knew what danger lurked around the corner.
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