Family Fallout from the Vietnam War
Decades later, the brother wants to mend fences
The repercussions of a woman’s decision to marry a man who avoided the draft has caused family fallout from the Vietnam War for decades. Now her brother wants to mend fences. See what Amy Dickinson advises in “Ask Amy.”
More than 50 years ago, my sister married a guy who skipped the States after being drafted into the US Army (it was during the Vietnam War).
I was also drafted and served, including going to Vietnam.
My mother was totally against my sister marrying this guy because he was on the lam. I was asked to meet with his parents when they came to my mom’s house, with instructions from my parents to make it very clear that they were totally against this marriage, making me the bad guy in this scenario.
My sister told our mom that if I wanted to attend the wedding, the invitation was left on top of my mom’s refrigerator. I took it personally because I was married and living with my wife and son and the invitation should have been sent to our home address.
I did not attend the ceremony.
They still live outside the country, but their children – my nephews and nieces – are American citizens and live here. They are grown and have kids of their own. They greet me with respect and call me uncle.
My sister and I never got close again. I have yet to meet my brother-in-law in person.
They are now alone in a foreign country with no intention of coming back.
What steps can I take to build a better relationship with them?
– The Older Brother
Dear Older Brother:
When faced with the prospect of welcoming a draft-dodger into the family (after you have served), you are reacting to the far less serious matter of where your sister left a wedding invitation.
But you know your family fallout from the Vietnam War is not just about an invitation, but about a series of events that shook your family and removed your sister from your family’s life.
Your sister’s husband chose to leave the country rather than serve in the military in a war that divided the country along justified matters of conscience.
(In 1977, President Carter issued an unconditional pardon to the approximately 100,000 drafted men who left the country, and according to an article published by History.com, around half of them returned to the States.)
If you want to try to restore and rebuild a relationship, you should reach out. A good way in might be to let them know that you enjoy having a relationship with their children and grandchildren, and that this has motivated you to try to build a better relationship with their parents, before it is too late.
Follow-up on “Family Fallout from the Vietnam War” from a reader:
“The Older Brother” wrote to you about his concerns about his brother-in-law, who had left the U.S., rather than be drafted into the Vietnam War. Your response noted that people who did this did so as a matter of conscience, but then you referred to the man as a “draft dodger.”
This is pejorative. “Draft resister” is the better term.
– Been There, and Back
Dear Been There:
I agree. Thank you for the correction.
In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart – ranging from DNA surprises to family fallout from the Vietnam War to dark family secrets. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. You can email Amy Dickinson at email@example.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.
©2023 by Amy Dickinson