In 1965, William “Byrd” Warlick had just graduated from University of Georgia Law School. Had bought a home in Augusta and was starting his career as an attorney with a new wife and a baby on the way when he was called to register for the Vietnam draft.
His budding legal career would have to wait until after serving a tour in Vietnam with the 319th Transportation Company reserve unit, which was called up for active duty in 1968.
“It wasn’t something I wanted or something I intended to happen,” recalls Warlick, a partner in Warlick, Stebbins Murray & Chew LLP. “It was hot there and I missed my wife and my baby.”
His welcome to Vietnam was landing in a C-130 at an airstrip being shelled by enemy mortars.
“Right when we got there we ran for the ditches,” he said.
Initially, Warlick was unsure how he would spend his tour, but after about a month in country working on transportation convoys, his superiors took note of his legal background and transferred him to the Judge Advocate General’s Corp., the military law office known as JAG.
The behind the-scenes assignment was as good as the Cartersville, Ga., native could expect in a hostile war zone.
“My service was not typical,” he acknowledges. “It was about the best I could have hoped for.”
The other thing that he credits to his relatively comfortable experience in Vietnam is that he and other members of the 319th went over as a unit and came home as a unit, as opposed to being individually assigned to platoons of strangers.
“We already had a lot in common and could work like a team as opposed to what was happening to the ground pounders,” he said. “I think they learned a lesson in Vietnam that it was better to send soldiers as a company and not as individuals.”
Toward the end of his tour, particularly after the Tet offensive and the Kent State shooting, Warlick and some of his fellow solders questioned whether the war was worth the toll it took on America’s psyche.
“It was probably the most unpopular thing any of us had ever done,” he said. “I think the country had decided the war was unwinnable.”