D-Day Remembered: President's mixed feelings on draft: Clinton tries to appease US veterans' unease over Vietnam by speaking of his longing for military experience

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PRESIDENT Bill Clinton said he did not regret protesting against the Vietnam War and avoiding being drafted, but he often wishes he had had some military experience.

In Europe to commemorate Allied invasions during the Second World War, Mr Clinton was asked repeatedly by American reporters about resentment felt by some veterans toward his college demonstrations and efforts to avoid the Vietnam War.

'I don't regret the fact that I opposed the conflict in Vietnam and our policy there,' Mr Clinton told the US television network, NBC. 'I did what I could to - honourably - to bring it to an end. I still think I was right on that.

'But there are plenty of times when I wish I'd had the experience, because - after all - I'm a child of the Second World War.

'I grew up on the war movies - on John Wayne and John Hodiak and Robert Mitchum and all those war movies. I grew up with the memories of a father I never knew with a picture of his uniform on.'

Mr Clinton's father, William Jefferson Blythe II, served in Italy and died in a car crash three months before the future president's birth in 1946. Mr Clinton later took his step-father's name.

Separately, the President told CBS that he had 'very mixed feelings' about his efforts to avoid service during the Vietnam War.

'I tried to get myself even back into the draft because I was so confused about it,' he said. 'But I did the best I could at that time and I'm doing the best I can now.'

After receiving a draft- induction letter in April 1969 while attending Oxford University, Mr Clinton signed up for an officer cadets 'ROTC program' at the University of Arkansas for the following summer to gain a draft deferment.

He failed to attend the training course, returning instead to Oxford for a second year. By backing out of the course, Mr Clinton made himself eligible once again for the draft. But by then, a lottery system was in place. Mr Clinton had a high number and was never called.

The President was also asked in an interview on ABC whether his avoidance of the draft during the Vietnam War cast doubts about his role as commander-in-chief. 'We can't rewrite history,' he said. 'We can only live in a time and place in which you are and I am doing my best to do a good job and be faithful to my duties as commander-in-chief.

'I have worked hard at it. I have aggressively sought out the best opinions I could get in the military and I work at it every day. I have to do my job now; I can't be encumbered by what other people think about that.'

Mr Clinton told NBC he understands the resentment of some veterans, 'but I've been stunned by the number of veterans . . . who said that they supported me'.

He said the nation learned from Vietnam. 'I think on balance it did our role in the world more harm that good, although we were well motivated,' he said.

'The only lesson in Vietnam is that we can't fight someone else's fight for them. You can't do that.'

(Photograph omitted)