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.

Wrong.

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.

The End.

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Comments

detroitmechworks's picture

Honestly, I don't know What I would have done If the draft had even been an option. Of course I believed my recruiter's promise that I wouldn't be shipped overseas with 2 kids, so I think I would have been foolish enough to think I could have beaten the odds for a year.

Course, I DID beat the odds in Iraq. One wound, some PTSD, but I came home. Don't even want to contemplate trying to stay alive in Vietnam.

I'm honestly impressed at your courage, and there are times when I wish I was the person I was before I went.

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I do not pretend I know what I do not know.

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Pariah Dog's picture

I'm glad you didn't get sucked into that.

Maybe it's because of all those guys I knew in high school having their lives wasted, but I continue to try and figure out WTF that was all about. Stopping Communism? Major FAIL there.

A few years ago though I ran across an interesting article on one of those business insider sites. They spoke of growing tensions in SE Asia over who owns what in the South China Sea. These tensions continue with China, Vietnam, Taiwan, India, and seemingly everybody else wanting a piece of it.

Raise your hand if you knew there's a huge pool of oil under that water.

The region has proven oil reserves of around 1.2 km³ (7.7 billion barrels), with an estimate of 4.5 km³ (28 billion barrels) in total. Natural gas reserves are estimated to total around 7,500 km³ (266 trillion cubic feet). A 2013 report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration raised the total estimated oil reserves to 11 billion barrels.[16] In 2014 China began to drill for oil in waters disputed with Vietnam.[17]

From the sounds of it, it's been known about for some time. I ran across a text excerpt, maybe from a book, claiming that Herbert Hoover published a geology book in 1920 that spoke of it. The book, it is said, disappeared rapidly and copies are sought still.

Now I can't speak of the existence of this book, or the veracity of the text I found. Truthfully the text is interesting, but looks a tad CT to me. But raise your hand if you knew Hoover was a geologist who was stationed in China for quite some time. Long enough to learn Mandarin. Apparently he was a very good geologist. Pity he didn't stay in that line of work. Being as he was so good at it, it's conceivable that he could have done a geologic survey back in the very early 1900s and realized there was oil under that water.

It wouldn't have done anyone any good back then because they had no idea how to do underwater drilling at that time. But they sure as shit did by the 1960s.

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Meddle not in the affairs of Dragons - For thou art crunchy and good with ketchup

Bisbonian's picture

I would have walked in, sung a bar of Alice's Restaurant, and walked out. And ended up on the Group W bench.

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"I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” —Malcolm X

. . . was to issue the blanket pardon before any opposition to the move could have been organized. Imagine the kangaroo kourts the GOP could have created to ensure that no one dodged the Iraq Oil Profit Wars if he'd waited!

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Vowing To Oppose Everything Trump Attempts.

widem's picture

I was pre-lottery numbers. So I was what one would label a reluctant volunteer. I enlisted under a delayed enlistment program while still in high school in 1966. I assumed sooner or later I would be drafted as I wasn't planning on college then. So my mal-treatment at an induction center was in New Haven, Connecticut. I'm kinda remembering the underwear thing. Heck that was 50 years ago.

Off to Parris Island, SC for Marine Corps boot camp on June 28th, 1966 seven days after graduation. Really old corps as we traveled by overnight train. The drill instructors all said we would be in Vietnam in six months. Which turned out to be true. Did my thirteen months there, followed by 10 months in the Philippines, and finished my enlistment in Washington, DC. Of note saw Nancy Sinatra at a USO show at China Beach and served in Richard Nixon's honor guard when he was inaugurated.

Used the GI bill for my undergraduate degee at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Later graduate degrees from both UW-Whitewater and UW-Milwaukee.

Looking back the four years in the Marines had its pluses and minuses. Certainly, the exposure to other countries, cultures, and even various parts of the USA was worthwhile. Knowing you were just cannon fodder in a war that could have been avoided by our politicans not the most inspiring choice. Being four years behind in the labor market without a college degree was a hinderance until achieved. But you do get to hold the high ground when chicken hawk politicans talk boldly about war when they never served themselves.

If this post is commented on please spare me "thank you for your service" or "welcome home." Most veterans cringe and repel at that sentiment.

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“Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.” Robert Kennedy paraphrasing a George Bernard Shaw quote.

Alison Wunderland's picture

...until I was 19 &1/2.

1969. About 3 months after my Bday I called the draft board office and asked how long you have to register. "Up to 5 days after your Bday."

Oops. Fucked that one up. Long story short--they mailed me 4F.

I'll save the long story for later for my impending series:

Storytime with AB

... a lot of which would make Hunter Thompson blanche, were he in any condition to at this point.

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Deja's picture

At least with females. How humiliating! But, you're right - naked power. Having 4 ancient, male, military doctors, standing behind 4 bra and panty clad late teen to early 20 females, on the umpteenth floor in the downtown Houston MEPS station - with the blinds drawn all the way up (I saw people in the next building standing at the window looking our way like it was a show), was humiliating. And all to check our "spines" so we had to bend over in front of them.

Beats the hell outa combat, but at 20, during Iraq Pt. 1, I drank the koolaid, and wanted to kick Saddam Hussein's ass myself. Can't imagine the horror of being drafted!

Excellent story telling, PhilJD. Would love to read more.

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