Throughout the history of the United States, there has been a military draft. Conscription, as it’s called, was used first in the Revolutionary War. However, it was the states that drafted able-bodied men in the militia, since the federal government had no power to do so.
The draft was implemented in the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, The Korean War, and the Vietnam War. I was an unwilling participant in the latter.
On December 1, 1969, the first draft lottery was held for men born between 1944 and 1950. Every male in the country was assigned a number drawn in the lottery that corresponded with the man’s birthdate. Those with a high number, such as 365, had nothing to worry about. Those with low numbers either enlisted in the Air Force, Navy, or Coast Guard. Approximately 100,000 fled the country. Many men sought deferment by enrolling in college and maintaining a 12-credit hour schedule. A few hurried to the altar and rushed into marriage, hoping that path would provide them with leniency from local draft boards, and more importantly, stateside status if they were drafted.
My number was 125. I didn’t worry at first, but then I had heard that Crawford County’s quota for January of 1970 would include those with numbers up to and including 90. I developed a plan.
On December 31, 1969, I walked into a Navy recruiter’s office and enlisted in the Navy on the 120-day waiting program (Delayed Entry Program). That meant that for the next 120 days I would be draft-free and didn’t have to report to the induction center in Omaha until April 30. I continued to party and work, knowing what was coming next. On the weekend before my induction date, I had a keg party in my parents’ basement. They approved of it, mostly because they were getting me out of the house. Scores of people showed up, all believing that this was the last they were going to see of me for a very long time.
However, on April 30th, I was standing in a room with other Navy and Marine recruits and the Marine captain came into the room to swear us in. I had discovered previously that everyone was given the option to turn down induction at the time of swearing in. I took my chances. Sure enough, the captain asked: “Does anyone present wish to decline enlistment?” I raised my hand. I was asked to leave the room. I did so, happily.
I didn’t get far before a uniformed person told me to take a chair. I didn’t think he could make me, but I did comply. When the captain came out of the “swearing in” room he asked me to follow him. We went into his office where he had me take a seat as he positioned himself behind his battleship gray, military-issued desk. He told me about how much money I cost the Armed Forces, and several other things that I failed to hear. You see, I had to get out of there and join the Air Force on the Delayed Entry Program where I would have another 120 draft-free days to work and party.
Computer was not a household word in 1970. Evidently, the Armed Forces had them. I attempted to join the Air Force in the same building that afternoon. I was denied. Okay, someone must have called down a few floors in case I had the nerve to pull some stunt no one had thought of.
Someone did think of it. I tried to enlist in the Air Force in three different locations after that day. I received the same message – denied!
On May 4, 1970, just four days after my decision to decline enlistment into the Navy, I walked downtown to get the mail for mom. I was about halfway home when I noticed one of the letters in a brown envelope was for me. I opened it right there. “Greetings, from the President of the United States of America . . .” Damn! It was my draft notice. On May 10th, I boarded a bus in Denison, Iowa, along with another Crawford County male resident to the same building I was in less than two weeks ago. This time, I was not given an option.
To be continued . . .
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