On December 23, 1965 I was 19 years old, living in East LA with my parents. My mother said, “Phil, this looks important,” as she handed me a letter from the government. It was my draft notice ordering me to report for duty on January 4, 1966.
Five months later I found was in the Central Highlands of Vietnam with the First Cavalry Division as a medic. That was absolutely the longest year of my life but somehow or other I survived and flew home June, 1967.
My uncle Monty picked me up at the airport in San Francisco. Instead of taking me home he brought me to Haight-Ashbury which was the zenith of the hippie movement during the Summer of Love. I was still wearing my army uniform while walking down the streets filled with hippies playing music and singing and looking at me saying, “Hey, brother, make love, not war.” I never felt more out of place.
Back in LA my parents were happy to have home as was my girlfriend until we broke up a few weeks later.
I soon found myself in Griffith Park at a love-in. There were thousands of long haired hippies and I was out of my army uniform. The marijuana smoke floated through the crowd like a cloud. At the merry-go-round a band was playing loud. The band was The Doors and the girls and half the boys were screaming at Jim Morrison that they loved him. The crowd, including myself, were mostly undressed.
I grew my hair long and stopped shaving. I went to East LA College and had to carry my discharge papers with me to prove that I’d already been to Vietnam because many of the professors accused me of going to school to avoid the draft.
For the next thirty years Vietnam Veterans were treated in less than a positive light including being portrayed in movies and TV shows as trouble. That included the military service organizations such as the American Legion who for a long time shunned Vietnam Vets.
The good thing about Vietnam for me was learning how to survive. I made it through Vietnam so I could make it through anything else including job losses, breakups and post traumatic stress disorder.