How I Dodged the Draft: A Vietnam Story
**Note: I posted this in March 2014--to mixed reviews, lol--on some other site whose name I've forgotten. Most of my diaries there are too time-sensitive or site-specific to bother reposting, but I would hate to lose access to this one. So, reposted, mostly for an uncaring posterity.**
I was born in 1950, prime cannon-fodder for the Vietnam killing machine. Like most white middle-class kids though, I was “saved” by my college deferment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Saved for most of my undergraduate years anyway, but my parents weren’t quite middle-class enough to pay for the whole thing. By the second semester of my senior year, January 1972, they’d run out of money and student loans and I was on my own. I had a bit of money saved from my bar mitzvah loot, so I took it on myself to pay for my last semester. I only needed seven credits to graduate though, so that’s exactly how many I signed up for. That was less than a full-time student workload, which meant my student deferment was no more.
This should have worried me. I had #14 in the draft lottery—Ernie Banks’ number, a supreme irony for a Cubs fan—so, even though the draft had wound down from its peak, that low number meant I was likely to be hearing from my draft board. There was no force on earth that could’ve gotten me into the army, but I figured I’d cross that burning bridge when I came to it. My parents were pretty apolitical, but they made it clear they would support whatever I decided to do: Canada, the underground, conscientious objector status. They didn’t want their oldest child to kill or be killed in a country they’d barely heard of. I made no plans for any of those options; I guess I figured even the US Army wouldn’t be idiotic enough to want me. My opposition to the war machine wasn’t entirely under the radar.
Sometime not long after the semester started, I received a notice from the Selective Service System to report for my pre-induction physical in Milwaukee. I thought about blowing it off and just not showing up, but the consensus among my friends was that the physical was the wrong place to make a stand. Time enough to act in the unlikely event I actually was drafted. So I duly boarded the Greyhound bus for an all-expenses paid journey to the YMCA in downtown Milwaukee.
There were a few hundred of us there. Before they even took our names, we were all ordered to strip to our underwear. This pissed me off. I’m no more modest than the next guy, and in 1972 I was hardly modest at all, but this had nothing to do with being seen in my undies by a bunch of other guys. This was all about power. They were making it crystal clear who had power and who didn’t; all the power lay with those who were permitted to wear clothes. Naked power, so to speak. “You’re in the Army now,” even though we weren’t. I’m not talking about the actual physical exam, where of course undressing is normal and makes sense. This was the better part of an entire day without clothes; waiting in line, filling out forms, answering questions, disposing of whatever vile “food” they offered with the misleading description "lunch." You haven't really lived until you've sat on a molded plastic chair in your underpants, staring at a greenish-pink-on-Wonder Bread sandwich and some not-safe-for-Farmworkers iceberg lettuce. After a while, they even got around to a physical exam in the course of our pre-induction physical. Mostly though, we sat, mostly naked, and waited to be told what to do. As I said, it pissed me off.
After a while, finally, all that was finished. I demanded to speak to a psychiatrist. That inevitably involved still more waiting, but eventually I was summoned, still in my fucking underwear, into a makeshift office. Some pudgy middle-aged white guy wearing civilian clothes and glasses introduced himself as Dr. Mumble-mumble. A vision in grey. He had me fill out some more forms. I politely explained to him that there was really no chance at all I would ever try to kill some Vietnamese guy who was just defending his country and home, that honestly, I’d be a lot more likely to blow-up my own commanding officer and, all things considered, I probably wasn’t really great soldier material. Dr. Mumble-mumble clucked and tut-tutted and said “That’s very interesting, Mr. D—“ and all but patted me on the head.
So I spat in his fucking face.
This apparently came as a surprise to Mumble-mumble; at any rate, it left him with nothing much to say. My last view of the good doctor was a great glob of spittle dribbling down his glasses onto his chin. I didn’t really know what to expect next; none of my research had quite covered this. I figured I’d find out soon enough if I was going to be shot or arrested. So I left the office, gathered my clothes, got dressed (finally!), left the Y and walked, Army voucher in hand, to the Greyhound Station to wait for the next bus to Madison. No one ever said a word.
I have to think my “rebellion” was noticed though. Maybe they took my “threat” against my hypothetical officer more seriously than they let on. In any case, the half-expected draft notice never did arrive, so I didn’t have to choose my next move. Instead, a few weeks later I received a new, revised and much-improved draft card with my brand-new classification, one of the few not covered by Draft Dodger Rag:
I-H, Registrant not currently subject to processing for induction.