It was early afternoon on January 28, 1966, when I reported to Travis Air Force Base. The passenger terminal was busy as air force people processed individuals headed overseas. Most of the transients were army troops en route to Vietnam. I presented a copy of my orders to an air force sergeant, who checked the flight manifest, gave me my flight number, and told me I'd leave in a couple of hours. My orders said I was to arrive in Vietnam by January 30. I'd be on schedule.
As I relaxed in one of the chairs in the waiting area, I noticed that most of the people were lower-ranking enlisted men in their teens and early twenties. They wandered about aimlessly, occasionally dropping coins into the numerous vending machines for a soda or candy bar. Some apparently knew one another; most likely they had attended training school together.
They were on their way to a war that none of them had been aware of only a few months before. The possibility that some would not come back may not have entered their minds. A good many were draftees who knew only that their number had come up and it was their duty, their lot, to go and serve. They were repeating the ritual that their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers had performed in previous wars.
As I looked over the young soldiers, the thought occurred to me that some had made the first flights of their lives getting to San Francisco. If they had been required to make their own airline reservations, they wouldn't have known how. It didn't seem right that soldiers so young and immature in the ways of the world had to leave