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Blumenthal shows why we're still fighting the Vietnam War

Decades after the Vietnam War, the question haunts many men of the baby-boom generation, including Richard Blumenthal: 'What did you do in the war?'

By Staff Writer / May 22, 2010

D.R. Howe treats the wounds of Private First Class D.A. Crum, "H" Company, 2nd Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, During Operation Hue City in Vietnam in February, 1968.

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“If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t really there,” is a laugh line attributed to comedian Robin Williams (or maybe it was psychedelic rocker Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane). But of course, it’s not true.

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For one thing, the Vietnam War – like the Civil War – probably won’t be over until the last vet checks out. And even then, it’ll keep being argued by the remnant of the baby-boom generation. For men especially, the question remains: “What did you do in the war?”

That’s happening now with the flap over Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s occasional assertion that he had served in Vietnam as a US Marine. In fact, as the New York Times pointed out in a controversial article this week, Mr. Blumenthal had gotten several deferments and then – when his draft board was closing in – joined a Marine Corps Reserve unit that kept him stateside.

Blumenthal – running for the US Senatehas since acknowledged that he misspoke, and his defenders point out that he usually described his military service as “during the Vietnam era.” At the same time, there is no evidence that he ever tried to correct the newspaper and magazine articles that mistakenly described him as a Vietnam vet, largely because that was the impression he had left.

In this case, whether one was for or against the war is irrelevant to most vets. (For the record, I was a US Navy combat pilot in Vietnam in 1968-69, later associated with Vietnam Veterans Against the War.)

What grates for many vets is the sense of entitlement and privilege the Blumenthal story evokes. Former vice president Dick Cheney had five deferments, former attorney general John Ashcroft six. Former president George Bush got into what was called a "Champagne squadron" in the Texas Air National Guard (as did the sons of former Texas Senators Lloyd Bentsen and John Tower). Similar story for former vice president Dan Quayle.

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