Interview with Franklin Evans
Stand To…: A Journey to Manhood
Reviewed by for Reader Views (4/08)
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to be joined by E. Franklin Evans, who is here to discuss his new memoir, “Stand To…A Journey to Manhood.”
E. Franklin Evans is a decorated, retired career U.S. Army officer who fought as an infantry platoon leader in Vietnam. Employed as a defense contractor, he is the widowed father of three grown children and lives in Georgia.
Tyler: Welcome, Franklin. I’m glad you could join me today to talk about your book. I understand it’s a memoir or autobiography about your time spent in Vietnam. To begin, will you explain why you chose the title of “Stand To…A Journey to Manhood” to describe your story?
Franklin: Certainly, “Stand To” is short for “Stand to arms.” This is a military term that originated during World War I. Since it was believed that most enemy attacks occurred at dawn, “Stand to Arms” was the order for all soldiers to awaken and prepare for an attack. Every soldier was to arm himself fully and remain alert until the order of “Stand Down” was given. The practice of “Stand To” was carried into the Vietnam conflict and signified, to me, the ritual of being prepared for whatever may happen. It also signified to me an awakening to the realities of the world around me.
Tyler: Why specifically do you see your time in Vietnam as your initiation into manhood? What were you like prior to serving in Vietnam and what changed?
Franklin: I was the typical teenager of the sixties. I was mostly a carefree youngster who had two major concerns in life: gasoline and perfume. That is, I was interested in cars and girls and how to get both. I spent most of my time carousing, drinking, going to the drive-in movies, lying on the beach, and working as little as I could in order to keep me in gasoline and girlfriends. I was a good student who went to college because most of my friends did and a major factor was to keep ahead of the draft. I was lucky to get a student loan, but spent my year at Florida State University avoiding studies. I was young and irresponsible.
When my friend was killed in combat in Vietnam all of that changed. I was deeply saddened and realized I was wasting my life and I had no purpose. Although my father was intensely against my joining the Army, I felt I had to go and find out what had given my friend such self-assurance. I was angry and felt a need to avenge his sacrifice. I guess that I was also looking for a bit of adventure with all this.
Tyler: Weren’t you concerned your fate would be the same as your friends? Did you consider there might be other ways to give purpose to your life without putting it in danger?
Franklin: As we all knew in our youth, bad things always happen to the other guy. I really never gave being killed or wounded a thought until I was under fire for the first time. Even then I was a bit cocky. I became more careful as I became more experienced.
As a teenager I joked that my goal in life was to become a beach bum. I later thought that I would finish college and perhaps go to law school after a few years in the Army. I kept that idea until I decided to make the Army my first career. Perhaps law school would follow. As life went on, we had children and other commitments so law school became a distant dream. It’s been replaced by other dreams. For example, I hope to be a successful writer. My next efforts will be historical fiction.
Tyler: A great deal of your book talks about your fellow soldiers and the camaraderie among them. What about serving together do you feel brought about such male bonding?
Franklin: I enjoyed the companionship of my fellow soldiers. I didn’t have many close friends even in high school, but I liked being part of a group. I found that I liked being a leader and was pretty good at it. In this respect my life hasn’t changed all that much. I have a few close friends, but I enjoy belonging to a group. Common interests and goals foster a closeness or bonding. The added danger and excitement of combat heightened that feeling. War is terrible, but it promotes closeness since everyone relies on their fellow soldiers for survival.
Tyler: Did you stay in touch with any of the men you served with after the war?
Franklin: During my twenty-six years in the Army I did cross paths with several of my former Vietnam associates. Unfortunately, I did not maintain contact with any. Also, I was uncomfortable with veteran organizations although I did join a couple for a short while. For several years after my return from Vietnam, I avoided talk about war and didn’t reminisce. Even today, I find it somewhat difficult.
Tyler: How long did you serve in Vietnam?
Franklin: My tour in Vietnam was one year. I was on orders to return to Vietnam in 1972, but the peace agreement was signed just before I departed and I was reassigned elsewhere. I was actually disappointed since I had pretty much decided by then to make the Army my career. I wanted to return and apply my experience and what I had been trained to do.
Tyler: Why did you pursue a career in the military after your tour in Vietnam?
Franklin: Generally, my career in the Army evolved. At first upon my return from Vietnam I wanted to take advantage of the civilian schooling I could get and the “Bootstrap” program fit my needs: complete my college education and, in turn, serve two more years in the Army. After that, I found I was nearing the halfway point toward retirement, so I decided to opt for a twenty-year regular army career. I could retire at a relatively young age and begin a new career afterwards. I enjoyed the friendships I made in the Army and shared many of the same beliefs and experiences.
Tyler: Would you recommend an Army career to young people today? What are the advantages of such a career that they may not receive in business or other professions?
Franklin: My Army career was extremely satisfying and exciting. I was fortunate to be able to travel to many exotic places and raise a wonderful family. My wife was very supportive and, except for several years she took off to raise our family, taught school. I was away from home early in my career, before children, except for the year I served in Panama. During that tour my family was settled and remained in the same community while I was away. That helped maintain a stable environment for them.
With all the deployments today that the soldiers endure, it is very hard on families, especially young families. I feel that military service has much to offer to the person who is looking for a home, or education, and job skills. Educational benefits and job training are distinct advantages for the young man or woman today. Travel is also a plus. However, anyone contemplating joining the service must look hard at the realities of being away for months at a time from his loved ones. Also, repetitive overseas tours with only a few months at home between tours can damage or destroy a family. It is a tough time for our military today. In summary, yes, I can recommend a career in the service, but only to the individual who weighs the pros and cons of this lifestyle. And who is prepared to make a commitment.
Tyler: We hear a lot about Vietnam Veterans not being appreciated when they returned from the war. Were you aware of the sentiment in the United States and the protests against the war when you were serving in Vietnam?
Franklin: As I related in my book, I did encounter, at a distance, some anti-war activists. I didn’t personally experience the personal harassment that some of my friends did, but I was aware of the highly charged feelings at that time. I was extremely anti anti-war and still hold some feelings about the treatment our returning veterans and POW’s experienced due to the actions of some of our citizens.
Tyler: Will you explain a bit further what you mean when you say your friends experienced personal harassment?
Franklin: A few of my friends told me about the cursing and, on one occasion, spitting on them by anti-war activists on the return home. We were mostly patriotic men serving in a job that was honorable and we couldn’t understand the outright hatred we saw from some of our fellow citizens. There was a time when soldiers were told not to wear their uniforms in airports or other public places so as not to draw attention and harassment upon themselves. For myself, I recall being hurt and angry for not being allowed to display my pride in my service.
Tyler: When you returned from the war, did you suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Franklin: Probably, but I didn’t know it. My wife told me how much I had changed and how I wasn’t so carefree as before. I had a few difficult times for several years, but with my wife’s help, I adjusted.
Tyler: Franklin, I really like the cover of your book. It’s simple but striking. Will you tell us why you felt it was appropriate for your story?
Franklin: I am especially pleased with the cover. I have had many favorable comments about it. My publisher did a very good job of capturing my intent from my suggestions. Essentially, what I wanted was a cover that expressed the setting and a journey. The bamboo fading into the jungle mist did exactly that.
Tyler: Franklin, now that so many years have passed since you returned from the war, has your perspective changed from what it was during that first year after you returned?
Franklin: It took some years, but I am more tolerant of those who left for Canada to escape the war. I feel that many lives were sacrificed for a conflict that our politicians failed to support. While we did not “win” the war, I am proud of my service and the service of my fellow veterans. That period of our history left a wound in our country that has taken years to heal. That wound has mostly healed, but it did leave a scar that will remain with many of us on both sides of the issue.
Tyler: Do you ultimately feel it was a mistake for the United States to enter the war? Do we have a far enough perspective from the Vietnam War now to make that statement, or will it always be an open question?
Franklin: I honestly can’t answer that question. My first reaction is to say, “Yes, it was a mistake” considering the fact that we withdrew and left the Vietnamese to their fate. On the other hand, I can’t dismiss the honorable service that our Vietnam veterans gave. It’s very difficult to admit that it was all a big mistake. That is a political question that may never have a satisfactory answer. I still struggle with it.
Tyler: Who do you think is the audience for “Stand To…Journey to Manhood”?
Franklin: My book was initially written as a memoir for my children. I wanted them to know and understand why I am the man I’ve become. My service in Vietnam was a pivotal year for me. It very much served to define my journey into the future. Anyone touched by the Vietnam experience would understand my message in my book. Former soldiers, adults who knew someone involved in the conflict, historians, teenagers looking for a book that relates what their grandfathers and grandmothers experienced would all find something of interest in Stand To. Today’s soldiers and their military families would also discover similarities between then and now.
Tyler: You just said you wrote your book so your family would understand how you became the man you are. I’m assuming then that you don’t personally regret your decision to be a soldier in Vietnam. Is it even possible for you to conceive how your life would have been different if you had not made that decision?
Franklin: My life would have been very different. I don’t regret my service in Vietnam at all. It was a turning point in my life that set the course for my beliefs and relationships with others later in life. I am sure that, without my Vietnam experience, another life-changing event would have decided my future course. What course would I have taken? Beach bum? Lawyer? Who knows?
Tyler: What do you think makes “Stand To...Journey into Manhood” stand out from other books about the Vietnam War, even other personal memoirs by soldiers?
Franklin: “Stand To” is not a book about “shoot ‘em up” combat laced with blood and guts. Except for a few short chapters near the end, this book relates the feelings of a young man’s daily experiences in an unfamiliar jungle environment and his emotions dealing with apprehension, loneliness, joy, sadness, and growth. It’s a story of relationships. The central character evolves into a more mature, confident, tolerant person. Along the way, he also becomes a savvy combat leader.
Tyler: What about your experience is relevant to the experiences of U.S. Soldiers today, forty years later?
Franklin: Our soldiers today experience the same emotions I experienced in Vietnam. Weaponology and technology have dramatically changed warfare, but soldiers have been, and will always be, subjected to the same emotions that anyone, away from loved ones, and serving in a dangerous environment must endure.
Tyler: Franklin, what impact do you hope your book will have upon readers?
Franklin: My hope is the same that I want my children to experience upon reading this memoir. I hope they understand what our soldiers sacrifice for their families and country. I want my readers to recognize how our soldiers’ experiences affect them.
Tyler: Franklin, if you were called today to serve your country, knowing what you now know, what would your response be?
Franklin: I would gladly serve in whatever capacity that I could contribute. Each person, I feel, owes something back to a country that provides so well for its citizens.
Tyler: Well said, Franklin, and thank you for joining me today. Before we go, will you tell our readers about your website and what additional information they may find there about “Stand To…A Journey to Manhood”?
Franklin:On my website www.efranklinevans.com readers can find out more about my book and my background. It is constantly updated. I plan to add more personal information and photographs in the very near future. Thank you, for this opportunity.