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Storycorps: Brothers share how their relationship changed after one was drafted

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative, recording and sharing the stories of service members and their family.

In 1965, Ron Amen of Michigan was one of the first Americans to be drafted for the war in Vietnam. He became a specialist in the U.S. Army and left his younger brother Alan back home. The brothers came to StoryCorps to talk about that war, what it means to have each other's back. Here's Alan.

ALAN AMEN: We were walking home from school, and that kid Hot Rod...

RON AMEN: Right.

A AMEN: ...Stopped you. He wanted to fight with you in the alley. Then he hit you. And you started fighting.

R AMEN: I do remember that one.

A AMEN: You were handling him. So, you know, I went to the house. I walk in. Pops says, where's your brother? I says, he's in the alley. He said, what's he doing in the alley? He's fighting with a Hot Rod. Said, what? He jumped up, and he ran out. And I remember, he says, don't you ever let your brother fight and you don't help him. So when you got drafted to go to Vietnam, I was more angry about it than I ever would have been if I was the one that was drafted. But I don't know how you felt about it.

R AMEN: I thought to myself, eh, how bad could it be? But couple of days before I departed for Vietnam, one of the guys from the neighborhood - his body was shipped back home for burial. And I went to his funeral. I remember walking up to his casket, and now I'm looking at him dressed in the uniform I was about to put on. And underneath that uniform, he was in, like, a rubber suit that showed up just above his tie, I guess, to keep him all together. And I thought to myself, damn, I don't know if I'm going to get back from this adventure.

A AMEN: Any close calls?

R AMEN: Crashed a helicopter - survived that.

A AMEN: Really?

R AMEN: Yeah.

A AMEN: I didn't know that.

R AMEN: Yeah. One of the other crew says, hey, Amen, you're bleeding. There was a piece of shrapnel stuck in my knee. I didn't even realize I was hit, you know? I had some lucky breaks but eventually finished my tour. And then I was home. I remember I was going through all my belongings.

A AMEN: You had set up a little bonfire to burn your Army uniforms.

R AMEN: Yeah. I was going to burn it all because I was just sickened by what I saw and what I had to do when I was there.

A AMEN: I remember, when you applied for a job after you got back, they couldn't hire you 'cause you were a liability to the company. I got the boss, and I ripped him up one side, down the other. I said, you dirty, rotten, miserable people - you refuse to hire my brother, a Vietnam veteran.

R AMEN: Yeah. You are definitely a force to be dealt with. And I admire that about you a great deal.

A AMEN: Well, I think it's something we both inherited. Nobody goes down alone.

R AMEN: Yeah.

A AMEN: And if somebody makes it, we make it together.

R AMEN: Blood is thicker than water.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Ron Amen and his brother Alan at their StoryCorps interview in Dearborn, Mich - his interview will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.