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Drafted to fight at 11 cents per hour

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By Felicia Gray

At the age of 24, Phillip Atherton, a painter, was drafted to fight in Vietnam. He deployed in October 1966 and returned two years later.

When he was first deployed, he was scared, he said.

“They wouldn’t tell me where I was going, but I knew I was going to Vietnam,” said Atherton.

“(When) I got drafted, I just did what I needed to do to serve my country and got out,” he said.

He started out in the Army’s 48th Transportation headquarters group, making convoys for five months, until he sustained a back injury and became a supervisor to more than 25 Vietnamese civilians.

Every day, he said, all the Vietnamese women filled bags with sand and stacked them to create a barrier to protect them from shrapnel.

“The Vietnamese people I supervised, they thought enough of me they gave me a miniature orange tree – which is the highest gift they can give you. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to keep it,” said Atherton.

For the two years he served, Atherton made about $2,900 total, which he figured was about 11 cents an hour. When he left the military, his rank was specialist 5.

He, like many Vietnam veterans didn’t receive the warmest “welcome home.”

“There was a time when people were against the war in Vietnam,” he said. “They didn’t do anything (to celebrate).”