SUMMER OF '69
Vietnam voices: Inshirah Abdel Jaleel
Inshirah Abdel Jaleel, 59, of Tampa, Fla., who was Rodney Evans when he graduated from Copiague High School in 1968.
So much was going on. Martin Luther King had been assassinated. The community was bubbling with turmoil and the war. A neighbor's son, Ronnie Pannell, had been killed in 1965, and that's when I became aware of the war. But it hadn't really hit home until they enforced the draft and I had high school friends who were getting killed over there. Woody Adams was only 18 and he was killed.
There was definitely the feeling that the draft was an injustice. We didn't feel we had rights when someone could hover over you and say you are going to follow orders and fight our war or you are going to go to jail. There was definitely some anger behind it, because this was a war I didn't believe in in the first place. I took the attitude of Muhammad Ali, who said these people have never done anything to me, whereas the very people who had enslaved my people were claiming the right to draft me and send me thousands of miles from home for an unworthy war.
By that summer, the war had become a principal focus of our lives because people we knew were getting drafted and people we knew were getting killed. Everyone had their eyes on the [draft] lottery. . . .
I went to Cheyney State that fall, but dropped out to help out after my father passed. I was drafted almost immediately. I didn't want to go, but my folks didn't have money to send me to Canada. My mother wanted me to go AWOL.
The war changed people. You took on a whole 'nother character once you got there. The first time I was in combat, I ran. I threw my helmet off, dropped my gun and started running. And I remember a guy from Texas knocked me down. He said "You're from New York. Do you really think you can run that far?" And I knew then that I was either going to rumble or I wasn't going to make it. I couldn't be the nice guy I had been on Long Island.