by RAY WOLBRECHT
It surprised me to find a friend of mine, Phil Savoy, in the obituary column of the Hays Free Press last week. The last time we talked, I thanked him for possibly saving my life by halting me from being inactive and letting events take their course. He seemed puzzled that what he said one time had so much effect on what happened to me after college graduation.
We met through friends in common because I had met several of his high school (Mac Arthur in San Antonio) buds before and right after I transferred from another university to Southwest Texas. We were on a first name basis and laughed at each other’s foibles. He and his friends were crazy and I’d laugh until my face hurt. And then he was gone.
He reappeared two years later with a more serious mien than when he’d left. Turns out he’d been in Viet Nam on our side; he got drafted. Read in the obit about his Purple Hearts and other medals. He was in the thick of it.
My lottery number was 52. I was a goner to the draft after graduation. I wasn’t going to think about it until later, like Scarlett O’Hara. For years I listened to news bits about the war and gleaned two major points: We weren’t trying to win and our soldiers’ lives were being leveraged for no goals. A tremendous amount of money and war materials were being wasted. Oh, they told us about the domino theory and how we had to put the brakes on Communism in the Far East or all the countries there would eventually be in Communists’ dominance. I believed them because they were honorable men and would never lie. Here, people were marching, protesting the immorality of the war.That wasn’t my concern then. I knew that I did not want to risk my life and limb for so nebulous a cause.
One sunny day on the Quad I came up to Phil and some of his pals and greeted them. The Quad was a fantastic place to absorb the college ambience. Friends found each other there and plotted and planned. I parked my self-restored Triumph 650 at the crosswalk and basked in the self-perceived jealousy I felt oozing from the pores of fellow students. But that Spring I wondered what plans our government had for me after graduation.
They were asking Phil about Viet Nam. He gave answers in a tone that was soft and without any tinge of boast.Then came the question that silenced us all. “What’s it like being in a firefight?” Phil’s eyes went dull. He stared through us like there was something behind us that we couldn’t see; like a petit mal seizure of sorts, or a drift into a bad dream. Then in a barely audible voice that trembled, he said, “I was never so scared in all my life.” I went numb at his answer. I then realized the seriousness of the decision I had to make. He had friends die there and nearly died himself.
I did not end up in Canada. I joined the Army Reserves. The draft board told me about a unit that just got back from Nam with a lot of early “outs” they were trying to refill. I raised my right hand and for six years I tried to stay unnoticed. Later, Robert McNamara and I agreed together that Viet Nam was a mistake.
Thanks, Phil, for what you did for us all.