Dennis Mansker successfully avoided being drafted for several years before finally entering the Army.
“They tried to draft me about six times between the time I dropped out of college in early ‘64, and they finally got me in ‘67,” he said, laughing. “I wasn’t a draft dodger. I was a draft evader.”
Being drafted was inevitable, though, and Mansker was 22 years old when he left for Vietnam, where he worked for a small transportation company near Saigon. His job was to provide security for two civilian trucking companies.
“I was a company clerk, so you can think of Radar O’Reilly with a bad attitude,” he quipped, referencing a character from the show M*A*S*H.
Like many soldiers drafted into the military at that time, Mansker was young. He painted himself as a “wild” kid and credited his run-ins with law enforcement for his eventual drafting.
“I kept getting my name in the paper for stupid kid stuff,” he said. “I suspect that every time I appeared in the local Daily News that I went up a few notches on the local draft board.”
Once in the Army, Mansker said he had trouble obeying authority.
“Back then I didn’t like sergeants, and I hated officers, which turns out to be ironic because now one of my very closest friends is a retired Navy captain,” he said.
In fact, Mansker penned a novel about his journey as a young man in the military. The book, “A Bad Attitude: A Novel from the Vietnam War,” is based on people and scenarios he faced while in Vietnam.
“I knew I was going to write a book before I even went (to Vietnam),” he said. “I’d always wanted to write since I was a little kid, so my curiosity finally got the best of me, and I let them draft me.”
The Longview native also enjoyed the opportunity to explore a country other than his own.
“One thing that you don’t hear is how exciting it was. “All of a sudden you’re sling-shotted halfway around the world, get off that plane, and it’s hot, and it stinks, and it smells like jungle and garbage burning.”
Despite the thrill of a new place, the scene was grim when Mansker arrived in Vietnam. Buildings had been blown up, and the buses had wire mesh on the windows to keep people from busting through them.
But Mansker maintains the experience was good for him.
“It was exciting,” he said, adding that he’s lucky he faced very little combat while abroad.
“I was really lucky I didn’t have to shoot anybody,” he said. “I got only got shot at once, and it wasn’t at me personally. It was at the Jeep I was riding in, and then we had a ground attack right before I left.”
When asked what people should take away from the Vietnam War, however, Mansker doesn’t hesitate: “Don’t trust the government and don’t trust the advisers to the government.”
Ultimately, he said, the U.S. had no chance to win the war the way they intended.
“The kind of victory people think about when they think about winning the war was impossible,” Mansker said. “The North Vietnamese were willing to spend the lives of 10,000 people per month on that war, and there’s no way we could have kept up with that.”