Serving in the Military During A Liberal Congress --
Why I Owe Gerald Ford an Apology
Sam T. Harper
FRANKLIN COUNTY, Tn -- In April, 1975 I and about 50 of my fellow Navy R.O.T.C. 1st class midshipmen at Vanderbilt University began our final set of college exams.
We were 1953 birth days, the last males subjected to the military draft lottery (which was last held in the fall of 1972, the year of our 19th birthdays). From 1973 forward, the volunteer military was in place. That meant that many of us could have easily left the R.O.T.C. program and not be concerned with serving. However, that was not the case with our class. For the most part, we stayed intact for a combination of reasons: some had low numbers in the lottery; some needed the money to complete college, and some still felt the need to serve.
Though I do not know empirically, I say that most of us were politically conservative. We had voted the first time in 1972 and I believe Nixon was the majority's choice. We therefore struggled with the complications of Watergate, the deterioration of the Nixon Administration, the failing of the Vietnam War effort, the overwhelming liberalization of the federal government with the election of the 1974 Congress, and America's only appointed president, Gerald Ford.
We drilled, undeterred, with our boltless M-1 rifles on Alumni lawn amidst Frisbee throwing, barefooted, long hair students, their Frisbee chasing dogs, and stereos repeatedly blasting Country Joe and the Fish's I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixed-to-Die Rag.
All these historical events culminated with the fall of Vietnam to communist forces as we were taking our final exams in college. I remember feeling discouraged, frustrated, and sad.
My frustration only amplified when I reached the fleet shortly thereafter. With the fall of Vietnam and the government's decision to let it go, the military was subjected to rapid funding reduction. Ship numbers had begun to be reduced as early as 1972. This continued throughout my active duty period, 1975-1978. The ship, on which I served, the U.S.S. Shasta, AE-33, was a brand new ammunition ship. We spend many underway hours stripping the munitions from ships of the 7th fleet that were on their way home for sale or decommissioning.
I remember when our captain wanted to go to the firing range off of Hawaii so we could practice our gunnery skills. My boss, the senior supply officer, was given the task to go to the Pearl Harbor fuel depot and haggle for the fuel oil we needed to steam to the firing range and back because we had none left in our monthly allotment. In addition, he had to haggle with the tug force commander for a target to be towed so we would have something at which to shoot.
He was successful and we had a day of target practice. However, when we destroyed the target early in the firing, there was much angst expressed by the target towing tug captain that we had destroyed his target and he had no budget for another one; who was going to pay for a replacement, ....
From the day I landed in the fleet in 1975 until the day I left in 1978, we were constantly faced with shortages in fuel oil, we spent an extraordinary time at sea due to the lack of available ships, we sat in port at times until a new budget period kicked in so we could perform our mission, and many other cases of fiscal anemia. Morale was horrible and reenlistments very low.
In the 1976 presidential election, I viewed President Ford, the incumbent, as the problem. I decided to vote for the only Democrat I have ever voted for president, Jimmy Carter, a former naval officer.
History has proven my stupidity. I now know that it was not Ford, but the liberal Congress (made more so with 1974 Watergate class) that was gutting the military. Ford, a president with no mandate other than to keep the tiller steady, had no chance to buck the liberals.
Our weakened military in the late 1970's allowed the Iranian hostage situation, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the genocide in Southeast Asia to take place. To this day, we face the consequences of those events.
I am afraid we may be heading down that path again, for today and in 2008 we face the same dilemma: a liberal Congress and GOP president.
We are in a long term war and cannot let our military be gutted for false fiscal reasons or because of today's other threat, politically correct causes.
So President Ford, I apologize for falsely accusing you of gutting our 1970's military. I will not make the same mistake in 2008.