Ernest Dartis figures he was lucky.
He served in the military during one of the most challenging times in U.S. history. But he served his four years stateside and didn’t get shot.
Dartis was in the Air Force from Nov. 23, 1973, until Nov. 23, 1977, and left as a senior airman. He said he joined to go back to school after leaving the military.
“School was real expensive, still is,” he said. “The economy wasn’t doing well.”
When he left the Air Force, he returned to trade school. He received his certification as a drafter in 1983 from State Area Vocational Technical School in Shelbyville, Tennessee.
Dartis did some drafting for a while with various companies downtown. The Winchester, Tennessee, native became an engineering technician for the Army at Redstone in 1984. He was a temporary hire at first and then became a permanent employee.
The Army civilian retired in July 2017 as a security specialist for the Aviation and Missile Command, G-2 (Security). He had 37 years of service, including four years in the Air Force. He worked at the then Research, Development and Engineering Center from 1984-97.
In the Air Force he was a missile maintenance technician. He went to Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona; Lackland AFB in San Antonio; and Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Illinois. He said he didn’t encounter antimilitary protesters during the turbulent Vietnam era.
“Some of the guys I was in with didn’t like the idea of basic training, the whole nine yards,” he said.
Dartis did hear guys talking about their experience in Vietnam, “talking about death, smell of death,” he said.
But the Air Force enabled him to improve his lifestyle as he had hoped.
“It was great,” Dartis said. “Travel, meeting people.”
At 67 the Huntsville resident enjoys building things like furniture and working on cars. He has two daughters and three grandchildren.
Dartis shared his thoughts on this nation’s commemoration of 50 years since the Vietnam War.
“I’ve noticed that a lot of veterans, even today, are living on the street,” he said. “There’s no help for them, especially those guys that went to Vietnam; they got shot up.
“But I didn’t serve over there. I didn’t serve over there. I’m glad I didn’t.
“I wish there was some kind of help for them. Because they’re on the street to stay or die.”
Editor’s note: This is the 325th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.