The National Guard is getting a bad rap in the flap over the Republican vice presidential candidate joining the Guard during the Vietnam War, says Utah's highest-ranking Guard officer.
And Maj. Gen. John L. Matthews, commander of the Utah National Guard, says he resents the implication guardsmen are chicken. Matthews said he is disgusted at implications in the media that Sen. Dan Quayle, Republican vice presidential nominee, was a draft dodger in the Vietnam War."There's an implication that you're not willing to participate in military activities when you join the Guard. That's hardly the case," Matthews said.
Quayle, R-Ind., was 22 when he graduated from DePauw University and lost his deferment for the draft. He joined the National Guard in May 1969, and his unit was never activated for service in Southeast Asia.
"I'm really upset. I think that those comments made in the national press reflect more on the national press than on the National Guard," Matthews said Saturday after addressing the Utah National Guard at its annual meeting in Ogden.
"They've talked about the National
Guard as a sanctuary from the draft. And that's a bum rap and one that has infuriated the National Guard," he said.
During the Vietnam War, he said, men had the option of getting drafted, or joining an active branch of the military, Reserve Officers Training Corps or the National Guard.
"Those people are not draft dodgers. They're all committed to support the Constitution," said Matthews, adding, "I personally flew 13 missions into Vietnam at that time and nationwide there were thousands of hours flown in that war" by activated Guard units.
Nearly 23,000 people were mobilized from National Guard units to fight in Southeast Asia, and Matthews said guard soldiers were awarded more than 4,000 medals for their efforts in Vietnam.
Some 8,000 Utahns belong to the National Guard, he said.
"I can tell you that there is absolutely 100 percent disgust. I can tell you that with great confidence" Guard members are distressed with the allegations of cowardice, he said. "They're feeling demeaned.
"When you join the guard, you take an oath to support the Constitution, just as the Army does. In addition, you take an oath to support the Constitution of the state," Matthews said. "But there's been some suggestions in the press that that is draft dodging."
Matthews, who has been in the Air Force and Air National Guard since December 1954, said various reasons motivate people to join the active military or the guard.
"The question is how well do they serve, are they willing to serve out their commitment" and the quality of their work?