A while back, I promised to fill you in on my military draft experience. I started writing this story in 2008, but never finished it. I think I will now.
In the fall of 1972 I was wanted by the FBI. My mother told me this, frantically, on the phone. I told her to calm down. She was rather freaked out by the FBI knocking on her door, as you might imagine. Two agents actually went to our house, showed their IDs, and asked where they could find me. I don’t think my home town had an FBI office, so they must have traveled to get there to knock on my mother’s door. Seems to me they would have better things to do. I told her I had taken care of it, not to worry, and that it was just a big misunderstanding. I had just returned for my second year of college, and had to hang up because I was late for “Work Study”.
Work Study for me, was climbing inside, literally, huge pans and stainless steel mixing bowls, in an attempt to clean them for the next day’s food preparation. I also ran the “macheen,” as my co-worker, Manny, called it, in between inserting myself into food-encrusted pots. The macheen involved scrapping food remnants from the plates into a trash bin, stacking all the dirty dishes in a rack, spraying them off, then pushing a button where they would be pulled into the industrial dish washer. At the other end of the macheen, the tray of semi-clean and semi-dry dishes were stacked then taken back to the serving line. My friends all worked in the offices around campus, or in the library. I made the mistake of putting my summer experience as a fry cook, on my Work Study application. For this, I was banished to dish and pot washing at the Connor Hall cafeteria to help pay my tuition. I was severely jealous of my fellow Work Study recipients, as you might imagine, and I tried every semester to have my work assignment changed. It never happened. For those of you who never had Work Study, just so you know, your paycheck went directly to the Registrar’s Office to pay down your tuition bill.
The FBI was looking for me because I was a draft-dodger. I was ordered to report for the Armed Services Physical Examination in the summer of 1972, but I didn’t show up. I didn’t show up because I told the 92-year-old lady at the Selective Service Office that I would be back in New Mexico by then, that I was getting married in September, and then returning to school. I asked her if it was possible for me to take the physical down there which was scheduled for the end of September. That was fine with her, she said, but maybe she said it because she secretly enjoyed getting us young men put on the FBI’s most wanted list. Not a lot of exciting stuff happening in that small town. Also, I didn’t get anything in writing, my first lesson with regard to that rule.
I was ordered to report for the Armed Services Physical Examination because I “scored” a low number in the annual Selective Service Draft. Your birth date became a lottery number 1-366 randomly pulled from two drums, one with the birth date and one with a number. So, for example, if September 10th was pulled from the one drum, and 127 pulled from the other, then everyone born on September 10th would have a lottery number of 127. Then you had a letter drawn, A-Z, to determine the last name order for each local board. Then you had the number of inductees needed by the armed services to meet troop levels.
My draft lottery took place on February 2, 1972, for those of us born in 1953. Nine days before my 19th birthday. All the Freshmen men sat around in the dorms that day, waiting for the numbers to be announced, like college football players waiting to be drafted, but we didn’t want to go in the first round. I got number 26. The date, February 10, 1953, one day prior to my birthday got 351. Just my luck. We had two big “winners” in the draft lottery on my floor of the dorm; a #3 and a #6. That afternoon they both got drunk and enlisted in the Army. If you enlisted, the theory was, you could have some control over your military career. The “control” part wasn’t really true, we later found out, and you served a four-year enlistment instead of the inductee’s three. There were other enticements they used, though, to get you to voluntarily sign up. One of them was the automatic induction if you didn’t show for the draft physical. The fact that you held a lottery number in the top third was still their best recruitment tool, however.
I started doing the math, not one of my strongest subjects, but I refused to cave. I learned, for example, that 49,514 men between the ages of 19 and 26 had been inducted in 1972. (There were an estimated 70,000 draft-evaders and deserters living in Canada by that time also.) I expected it to be less in 1973 since the induction number had dropped every year from 1969, when the first lottery was held since 1942. Prior to that, the draft, which was still in place, was done by oldest first.
So I still, in my feeble opinion, had a pretty good chance of not getting an induction notice even though my number was 26, depending on how many men were needed. In the 1970 draft the highest lottery number called was 125. So everybody with a higher number 126 through 366, and likely some individuals with #125 because of last name order, were not drafted. In 1970, 162,146 men were inducted through the draft. As a general rule, the Selective Service said that the upper third of the list would be inducted, the middle third would probably not, and the bottom third would definitely not have to forcibly tote a gun and wear green for three years.
Then there was President Richard Milhous Nixon, my ace in the hole, who campaigned for his second term on the promise to end the draft as soon as he was re-elected. Since he was also intending to withdraw from Viet Nam, I was putting my faith in the hope that the draft would indeed end in 1973, before my number came up.
So if Nixon didn’t follow through on this promise to end the draft and pull out of Vietnam, like most politicians once they get in office, then I still might have a chance of not being drafted since they would pull all eligible men from the other lower 25 lottery birthdays first to fill the quota. Where they got the quota from is something I was never able to determine, and wouldn’t it suck if you were the last man drafted? The last man drafted to make the 400,000 troop strength number, but you were really number four-hundred thousand and one. Would they let you go once they did the recount?
Registrants with low lottery numbers had to report for a physical, mental, and moral evaluation at a Military Entrance Processing Station to see if we were “fit” for military service. So that summer, after the draft lottery and my #26, I got the order to report for the examination which was being held in Casper WY in August. I was home for the summer working at the Drive-Inn 4U, my now ill-fated food service experience.
I knew there was very little chance of me not being classified 1-A, but I was hearing about all kinds of ways to beat the draft. One that I actually heard a lot was that you could inject yourself with peanut butter to raise your blood pressure temporarily. I’m not sure how that worked. I can’t imagine peanut butter going through a syringe, but needles were out for me anyway. Another was simply to not register since it would take them a while to find you. Already missed that one, but it usually only took them a week to find you and then you risked immediate induction. You could say you were a homosexual (they weren’t “gay” yet). That would raise some eyebrows, but not always work, although some really practiced at it. I know of at least one “lottery winner” who just walked out of the physical. Many tried to score as low as possible on the mental segment of the test. That didn’t work either. Intelligence wasn’t a requirement to get shot at, I guess. I wasn’t going to be able to get that college deferment that filled up the universities during the 60s either, because they reformed the draft in 1971. You could only get a deferment now until the end of the current semester unless you were a senior, then they would allow you to finish the academic year. Still that could buy you some time if the draft was going to end before you were called up. And then there was my method, I just didn’t show up for the physical. It took the FBI two weeks to find me, probably because I was from a small town in northern Wyoming, still, not a very effective method of avoiding the draft, unless you were already packed and headed for British Columbia.
So, now that you know more about the military draft than you ever cared to know, I got it all straightened out by reporting to the local Selective Service Board in Las Vegas, NM, where I was enrolled in college. They scheduled me for the physical, mental and moral examination at the end of September, in Albuquerque, Albuquerque being the closest MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station). We traveled there on a military “school” bus. You know the ones with the hard fiberglass seats. The trip was about 124 miles and would take us two hours. We were to arrive at the bus to leave by “oh five hundred hours.” Yeah, that’s five o:clock in the morning.
To Be Continued………