The war in Vietnam was comparatively less significant regarding marriage. Because the average soldier was 19, many soldiers were unmarried. By “February 1969, of every ten enlisted men (including draftees), four were married, and two had children” (Lieberman, 1971). This was a drop from rates observed in World War II, which would most likely have been 6 or 7 out of every 10 married as opposed to 4. Additionally, “23% of U.S. military personnel in their first term are married (330,000 men), over half their wives work…” supporting this lower rate of marriage (Lieberman, 1971). There was a much lower drive to marry this time before leaving for war.
With the presence of American soldiers in Vietnam, the Vietnamese women were exposed to them and developed relations with them. As a result, they married American soldiers, thus making up the South-East Asian American population after entering the United States. This potentially posed a problem in the U.S., causing the number of unmarried American women to increase (which was partially from the deaths of soldiers and partially from the returning soldiers marrying Vietnamese women). This trend in marrying Vietnamese women might have caused familial tension because of objections to sons marrying foreigners and hard feelings towards all Vietnamese due to the deaths of soldiers. Regardless, by 1980 “33.3% of Veterans had Vietnamese spouses,” most of which were women (Lieberman,1971). This immigration to the U.S. caused a shift in the population, increasing the Asian minority.
During the War
Although the war was happening right outside the camps of American soldiers, they were still conducting marriage ceremonies on the front lines. Catherine Ward and Marie Bates are prime examples. They were two women who roomed together in nursing school and joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps (Dixon, 2007). They also went to Vietnam together and had a double marriage there to two physicians they met (Dixon, 2007). Due to changing social norms, marriages on the front lines were in part accepted, though they did not occur frequently (most likely for the obvious reason: there was a war to focus on). This may have provided a distraction, provided entertainment, and increased morale in the soldiers since marriage was a positive event and something to think about instead of death.
With these marriages occurring in the barracks, there was a push to station wives with their husbands. Shirley and Greg Menard were a couple lucky enough to be stationed together. Shirley was a nurse while Greg was a helicopter pilot. When her service was up and she found out her husband was staying, “she admitted that she “had no conception of what Vietnam was” but that she “just wanted to be with my husband.” “So,” she explained, ‘I forgot about getting out of the Army. There was a hospital over there, and my husband needed me… I asked for orders immediately’” (Dixon, 2007). Many wives held the same view, not wanting to be stay-at-home wives and wanting to be close to their spouse while serving. This could not happen for everyone, causing jealousy in those not stationed with their husbands. The Menards were two of the lucky ones.
While gay marriage was not a hot topic quite yet, it is worth mentioning because the beginnings of the topic were emerging. Gay marriage was not allowed, as is obviously still the case today, but rather than pushing for acceptance the gays wanted left alone. As William Donohoe, of the U.S. Airforce, said, the Vietnam War was his first encounter with a homosexual man and mentioned “Don’t ask, don’t tell’ was always the rule—it’s just that it wasn’t formalized in writing” (The Case Against Gay Marriage, n.d.). Donohoe had no problem with the men he served with; he said they waned left alone and it was simply never talked about, that men went about their own business.
Over the course of the Vietnam War, there were around 50,000 deaths leaving a significant number of 16-24 year old girls who could no longer marry. With those deaths, according to the VA records, 6,300 widows were added to the rolls in 1968 alone, and by 1980 that number climbed to 18,000 (Lieberman, 1971). This weighed heavy on those women effected by this formidable number of deaths. What is more, there was pressure on widows to not remarry, the government implementing consequences for such behavior. They decided “her educational grant, loan eligibility, and DIC (Dependency & Indemnity Compensation) are terminated upon remarriage” justifying that the new spouse can now provide for her (Lieberman, 1971). This led to many problems, especially with women who needed to move on emotionally but were trapped economically. It appeared to be a bit of a punishment based on faulty logic resulting in widows having to make a hard decision. There was no guarantee that a new spouse could provide, but was it worth the risk if it helped with moving on?
While divorce was high during World War II, it was ever increasing. There was a 30% increase in the divorce rate since 1967 with 715,000 divorces in 1970 (3.5 per 1,000 population) (Lieberman, 1971). This can be compared to 1946 where there were 610,000 divorces (4.2 per 1,000 population) (Lieberman, 1971). The number of divorces was increasing; the reason the percent was higher in 1946 may be attributed to the change in population size. What is unclear is whether the war was a cause of the rise in divorces or if that was happening regardless. Divorce has been increasing over time anyway and may not have been cause by the war, but even so it continued through the war and was definitely helped in the increasing rate.
While marriage was effected by the Vietnam War, it was not as greatly effected as it had been in previous wars. The age bracket of soldiers was significantly lower with soldiers almost too young to consider marriage. Additionally, unless directly effected by the war, life went on as normal. This means that natural trends in marriage and divorce were free to continue showing an older age bracket marrying and finding careers and divorce rates on the rise. These rates may have been affected by the war, but by how much is undetermined. The most significant effect of the war on marriage came in the form of widows, left without their husbands to move on with life in society. For those women, this war will always be significantly traumatizing.
The Case Against Gay Marriage. (n.d.). Catholic League RSS. Retrieved March 28, 2014, from http://www.catholicleague.org/the-case-against-gay-marriage/
Dixon Vuic, K. (2007). “I’m afraid We’re Going to Have to Just Change Our Ways”: Marriage, Motherhood, and Pregnancy in the Army Nurse Corps During the Vietnam War. Signs, 32 ( 4), 997-1022.http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/513078
Lieberman, E. (1971). American Families and the Vietnam War. Journal of Marriage and Family, 33(4), 709-721. http://www.jstor.org/stable/349445.