Infantry in Vietnam was a Higher Percentage of Draftees

by Bryan Ketter

Bryan writes:

The Vietnam draft numbers are a little misleading, because 90% of the Army infantry consisted of draftees by '69.


Thank you for joining our conversation to help clear up some popular misconceptions about U.S. involvement in Vietnam, known in the U.S. as "the Vietnam war."

I wonder if you would share with us the source of your information?

We were able to find an LA Times - Washington Post Service article published in May of 1970 which indicated that, according to the most recent Pentagon statistics (at that time), roughly 40% of Army enlisted strength in Vietnam was made up of two-year draftees (as opposed to 36.4% of Army enlisted strength worldwide). It then went on to say that partly because those who volunteered for the Army got first choice of assignments and specialties, draftees did end up constituting a majority of men assigned to army infantry (although it did not give a percentage), and that as a result, draftees at that time accounted for roughly 52% of the Army's Vietnam casualties.


We also found several places that quoted the statistic that roughly 88% of infantry riflemen in Vietnam were draftees, but none cited the source of their information, so we have no way to know if those are reliable numbers.

Maybe some of our other readers who are Vietnam veterans could help us out with this?

Please click on the link below to add your comments.

Comments for Infantry in Vietnam was a Higher Percentage of Draftees

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Draftee response...
by: Ken Delfino

According to the book "Whitewash/Blackwash-Myths of the Viet Nam War" by Bill Laurie and R.J.Del Vecchio, 2/3 of those who served were volunteers.

For a more detailed breakdown, I would recommend that you send an inquiry to the Viet Nam Studies Center at Texas Tech University. That 90% number seems very high and I'm going to research that myself. I know that Navy's River Patrol Force was an all-volunteer unit.

Ken Delfino
United States Navy (ret)
RivDiv 533, TF-116

Thanks, Ken. We'll look forward to your update.

by: joel harvey C2/5 1st cavalry div. 1968-69

I was a draftee in an infantry unit as stated above.

About 7 out of ten in our squad were drafted and we got the bad jobs, such as walking point, m-60 machine gunner etc.

I see the twin tower guys got lots of money but we who were used as canon fodder at Khe Sahn are still screwed.

Navy dudes and Draftees
by: j


You were in the Navy? Hello, you volunteered.

Three years, huh? You liked that stuff?

Infantry NOT all draftees
by: Combat engineer sergeant

90% of the infantry in 1969 were draftees? Gimme a break! 30% I could believe, but probably less than that.

If you were drafted, it almost automatically meant a combat arms because you only had to do 2 years, not 3 or 4 as enlistees did. The Army and Marines weren't going to spend 10 months training you when you'd only have 14 months left.

But draftees were divided among the infantry, artillery, armor and combat engineers. (Combat engineers got the fewest.)

And if you didn't like your assigned MOS, you could simply "take a short" - sign on for another year of active service for your choice of occupation specialty. Serve one more year and you could have any job you wanted - electronics, clerical, mechanics, heavy equipment etc.

I get very angry at the morons who seem to think they know more about the war than the guys who were there - like me (from Feb 69 to Mar 70, 13 months plus a few days).

SGT, thank you for your service, and for taking the time to help educate the uneducated about the realities of our country's involvement in Vietnam.

infantry, recon, lrrp
by: Anonymous

I served as a draftee '68-'69. All my time in the bush - no incountry R&R, no standdown, no base camp, no breaks of any kind. Humped days and patrolled at night.

These draftees spent more hours in the Army than most four year guys. Lots of the draftees were college educated.

I can only speak for the 4th I.D. The only non-draftee I ever met were RA's without a guaranteed MOS.

So 90% is not an exaggeration, in my experience. Any one that slept in base camp or ate in a mess hall (combat or not) was considered a base camp commando. Like it or not, it was a draftee war.

I never met an RA in the field.

If you were a draftee, your serial no. started with US; volunteers started with RA.

I was a draftee and infantry. I was with 11th Infantry Bde., '68-69 and never met a grunt that was RA (except officers).

80%-90% is my estimate of draftees that were infantry.

by: Sam McGowan

Numbers regarding different services have to be put into perspective. Don't forget that of the 500,000 men (and a few women) in Vietnam at the height of the war, only about 10% were "ass in the grass" at any given time.

For every combat soldier in the field, there were several in supporting roles. They were in Vietnam, but weren't serving in a combat arm. As for draftees, considering that they were in for only two years, they would be among the lowest ranks and, yes, the majority of them were in the infantry.

In short, 90% is not an unrealistic number. Even the Marine Corps had large numbers of draftees.

Draftees and Infantry
by: Benjamin Gay

Statistics and reliable sources go hand and hand. The ones in power or have the authority make their own statistics and determine whether a source is reliable. Most of these people were not there to count on their fingers your company's RA's and US's.

When I completed basic traning in 1967 at Ft. Leonard Wood, there were 9 people that were NOT sent to infantry AIT. Out of 210 trainees there were 41 RA's, 26 ER's,12 NG's and the rest U.S. (draftees)The 9 that didn't go to infantry, 3 went to artillery and 6 to engineers.

That meant that 20% RAs, 13% ERs,6% NGs, and 61% draftees went to infantry.

How many Army Infantry were In Vietnam War?
by: SSG Michael Cox

How many Army Infantry were in Vietnam and how many of that total were KIA and Wounded during that war?????????

US vs RA
by: Rob laing

I was drafted, trained at Ft. Riley KS with the 9th Div. Most 60-70% were "US" draftees. We all went to the Nam in rifle companies.

I finally ended up with the 4th ID in Pleiku, in a rifle company and again the percentages of US to RA was 6-7 to one US.

I'm sick of hearing the "Volunteer" BS, I was there, and I can tell you the drafted 11Bs and 11Cs in the Infantry divisions fought just as bravely as the RAs, and a lot of the times, better.

% of Draftees in the Infantry?
by: R. Price

I went in in 1969 as a 2-year RA. This meant I was unassigned just like a US.

I was expecting infantry and Viet Nam, but they made me a clerk and sent me to San Antonio.

Does anyone know what percent of unassigned did not go in the infantry?

by: Anonymous

I don't know what numbers to believe. I was also a draftee and was sent to Army Field wire school. As I remember most all of us were draftees. The Army and marines were hurting for young meat.

Out of my group of about 12 guys who were processed in, 2 were sent to the Marines. No, they did not want to go. They were drafted into the Marines.

What I am still trying to figure out is what or who decided who was going to be 11B10.

Did a computer just kick out names? Were those tests we took part of it?

Draftees in Vietnam
by: Anonymous

When considering the number of draftees (AUS) vs volunteers (RA)serving in Vietnam I think it prudent to consider each year of the war as a separate entity.

I was a draftee in 1967 and after spending one year in the US was reassigned to the 9th Infantry Division late in 1968. Our commanding general, Major General Julian Ewell, labeled the 9th Infantry Division a draftee division.

If you recall, the war became increasingly less popular on the home front after Tet '68, which probably discouraged volunteering. I suspect the percentage of RA to AUS in the Army changed each ensuing year of the war, with the latter steadily exceeding the former.

Draftees in Combat in Vietnam
by: Jim

What is this with the more or less guessing about the numbers/percentage of draftees in combat roles in Vietnam?

The government has those statistics. However, it hasn't released them and probably would not release them even under a FOIA request, even after nearly forty-five years.

Maybe another Daniel Ellsberg type is out there to get these statistics.

by: Tom

I was a draftee in May '69. Spent the summer in AIT infantry so this interests me. Really all you have to do is look at the KIA lists.

17,321 army enlisted were killed and 16,989 army draftees were killed during the conflict. If you count Marines, then more draftees were KIA than enlisted. Most of those killed at first were enlisted.

My guess is that by 1970 there was about 60% draftees in the army, and drugs were prevalent through out all the services.

Draft Lottery
by: Anonymous

On another blog,it states that the lottery was in place for Conscription...Also known as the draft. In February, 1968...50,000 men were drafted...The lottery did not exist. Two days after my induction as a draftee,(February 68) Robt. McNamara resigned as Sec of Defense.

Draftees were the backbone of Infantry
by: Anonymous

I trained with the 4th Inf Div at Ft. Lewis and went to Vietnam on the troopship Gen. Walker with the division.

I would estimate that 90% draftees was about right for troops E-4 and below on that ship.

Several of us draftees in combat positions were quickly promoted to SGT E-5 because we lacked NCOs.

by: Tom T.

I was a draftee inducted in May 1969. My training was 8 weeks basic and then 9 weeks of AIT infantry.

1/3 of us went to Panama, 1/3 to Alaska, and 1/3 to Germany. Almost all of us were 19 years old and drafted.

There were no enlisted [volunteers] that I know of in our group of 214.

by: Lorne wood

I was drafted in March 1968 out of Los Angeles, went to Fort Ord for basic training, received my mos of 11 bravo then on to Fort Lewis, Washington, for eight more weeks of inf training. Arrived in Vietnam Aug 1968.

I served with the 25th inf division in Cu Chi and Tay Ninh. I say 80 percent or more of my company were draftees...I was in bravo company.....

Drafted Grunts
by: ElTee

I commanded a rifle platoon but I don't know how many of the 36 men in my platoon were drafted or enlisted. Truthfully, at the time it didn't matter, as long as everyone did his job.

Personally, I was drafted, then enlisted for a guaranteed assignment. But I ended up going to OCS and wound up being commissioned as an infantry lieutenant.

2/3 of my infantry Co were draftees
by: B 2/5 1Cav 66-7

In my infantry company, for which I got the enlisted rosters for a year. Including the NCOs, 2/3 of my unit were draftees, 4JUL66- 30JUN67. Exclude the NCOs and it was 80+% draftees.

They also left out any rosters for the months when we suffered KIAs. Which, tellingly, in my platoon, was 1/3 KIA, and virtually all received wounds, over the same time period.

In my 90 man unit over the year, three rifle platoons, there were 23 KIAs (One was the CO).
The 90 men included six officers (one an FO), and five senior sargeants.

This conflicts sharply with the oft quoted "2/3 of those who served in Viet Nam were regular military".

I have tried, but have been unable to find any reliable statistics as to the make-up of Army combat infantry units, 1965-1972, in the RSVN, where I believe most infantry units made up of draftees might be found, percentage wise.

One source stated 17,725 Draftee KIAs.
And/But at most, there were only 50,000 actual ground combat troops at the peak in 1968.

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