At 17, Robin Custer wasn't making plans for college. Instead, he was training to become a soldier in the Vietnam War . "I spent my 18th birthday in Vietnam," said Custer, now 64 and an officer with Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Westport.
Drafted in 1963, Custer served as a squad leader in the Army's 1st Division . This meant he not only had to look after himself, he was responsible for all the men in his patrol unit.
"I would take anywhere between 10 and 15 men into the jungle," said Custer, who lives in Norwalk, "and whatever the mission, whether it was securing an area or what, it was my responsibility to see that the mission was completed and to get my men out safely and back to base," he said.
During the year he spent in Vietnam, Custer said he was fortunate never to have lost a man in his unit.
And though he was drafted, Custer said he was happy to serve his country. "My father served in World War II, so when I got my letter, I said, 'Ok, it's my obligation as an American to do what my country asks,' " he said. "Sure, I was apprehensive about what I was going to do there. I was a teenager, but I was going to do what I was asked, what I was trained to do."
Custer said he would have enlisted if he hadn't been drafted. In fact, he said he would do it all over again, even knowing what he would be facing.
Custer, who is the quartermaster of his VFW post, said even though Vietnam was controversial, he is proud to be a veteran. And as a proud veteran, he is disheartened that Veterans Day is not a national holiday.
"It's a day on the calendar that's long lost its true meaning," he said. "Veterans Day is supposed to be a day set aside for veterans. It's not about sales or politicians."
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