“The war was a comedy of horror. It was just as surreal as any Joseph Heller book,” said Mr. Piscitelli, who was eventually sent home from Vietnam after being wounded three separate times. “Decisions were placed in the hands of teenagers. It was a teenager war. At this whole battle of Delta sector, there was not one officer there.”
As for what may have drawn Bullock to the Marines in the first place, Christian Appy, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the author of “American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity,” said that for many African-Americans, the military was a particular kind of prospect.
“There were people who would say — older uncles and fathers who would say — ‘Listen, in our society, yeah, the military might be authoritarian and hierarchical, but it’s more of a meritocracy, there’s more opportunity for people like us than practically any other area of American society,’” Prof. Appy said. “‘If you do your job, you’re going to get a steady paycheck, you might get promoted. You might learn some skills.’”
But as the Vietnam War went on, that promise faded.
Prof. Appy added: “More and more African-Americans, including guys in the military, were saying, ‘You know, we achieved the right to be cannon fodder in a war that seems increasingly senseless and even unjust — and a blatant reminder that while we’re being sent 10,000 miles away in the name of democracy, we’re being denied those democratic rights still in the United States.’ A contradiction that King and every civil rights leader was drawing attention to.”
It’s a contradiction deepened by Dan Bullock’s age, and the fact that he should have been in high school, not in a bunker in Quang Nam Province.
As Bullock’s father told a Times reporter in 1969, “My son had no business in that damn war.”
In 2003, a portion of Lee Avenue in Brooklyn, near where Dan lived, was renamed for him, and a highway marker commemorating his service was installed in Goldsboro in 2017.