We were sitting in a classroom. There was a chalk board at the front and two doors on one side, a row of windows on the other. American flag on one side, the New Mexico State flag on the other side of the chalkboard. It looked not unlike the college classrooms I was familiar with. Rows of those desks with plastic seats and a work-space not big enough to put much of anything. We waited quietly because we were told to be quiet and face front. Nobody was risking doing anything but what we were told to do. Not like a college classroom. After about ten minutes of this silence, a voice from the back. “This is bullshit.” It was said to no one in particular but did received a response. “Shut the f*** up.” Within seconds of that exchange a soldier in full dress uniform walked into the room followed by two enlisted men (I had recently learned what enlisted men were.) carrying stacks of what I assumed were test booklets.
The two enlisted men stood on either side of the desk in front, the uniformed soldier stood behind the desk in front of the chalkboard. He wrote his name. I still have no idea what it was. He wasn’t very good at handwriting on a chalk board and he never repeated it. Then he started explaining in minute detail what we were about to do. In short, take a test. A test we would take using a number two pencil that we were not allowed to sharpen. The test booklets were not to be written in. All answers were to be put on the answer sheet which the two enlisted men were now passing out. The answer sheet was one of those sheets that you shade in the bubble under the correct response, A, B, C, D, or E. “Shade the bubble in completely, if you make a mistake be sure and erase completely” There were one hundred questions on the test and we were to have one hour to complete it. We are told to write our names and Social Security numbers on the top in the boxes provided. I always find this amusing because it clearly states on the SS card “Not To Be Used For Identification Purposes.” It also says on the back of that card that it belongs to the Social Security Administration and “you must return it if we ask for it.” WTF.
The test booklets are passed out and we are told not to open them until told to do so. We all wait patiently with our hands folded over the test booklet and answer sheet, the pencil in the grove at the top of the writing surface.
“Begin.” He presses a timer on the desk. The two enlisted men walk up and down the aisles, arms folded, looking for cheaters.
I open the booklet and the first thing I notice is that it has been written in. Shit, am I going to get in trouble for this? It’s a four-letter word. I try to erase it, but it’s written in ink.
The first question: “Who was the first president of the United States?” I kid you not. The choices: A: Milton Berle, B: Santa Claus, C: George Washington, D: Paul Bunyan, E: None of the Above. I want to select B, but I choose C and shade in the box on the answer sheet. In fairness to the US Military, those weren’t the exact possible choices, but you can see where this is going.
Question 2. “How many apples are in a dozen?” A: 13, B:16, C:24, D: 12, E: None of the Above. Are they kidding me?
This goes on for 100 questions. The hardest question on the test could have been answered by a second-grader. I finished it in 20 minutes, only because I was careful to shade in the bubbles completely and stay inside the lines. I never had to erase “completely” an answer.
I went back over some of the questions to see if there was a trick. If I was missing something. Nope. They had taken the guessing out of “multiple guess.” I sat patiently for the rest of the hour, staring out the window that had a view of a row of frosted windows on the building next door.
“Time.” Finally. “Put down your pencils, close the test booklet and put your answer sheet on top.” We all comply.
Uncle Sam gave us a lunch voucher to a diner within walking distance, and a return bus ticket on Trailways. Also within walking distance, if “walking distance” means four miles. We were given a map to both places and led out of the building. I made it back to married student housing around 6:00 that evening. An interesting 13-hour day trip.
During the next month and a half, I received phone call after phone call from branches of the US Armed Services. First the Army, then the Marines, then the Navy, then the Air Force, then the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard was the most persistent. They would call twice a week, and each time would offer me another perk. Like my wife could live off base for six months, then it was only going to be three, then I could pick my specialty. “What are you interested in? Photography. Yep, we have a program for that.” I never caved.
It turns out I pulled off a perfect score on the test, and that had never happened before. I was told that…really. I didn’t believe it for a second. I asked the Navy recruiter if people actually failed that test and was told they indeed did. But, he added, that most probably failed it on purpose so they were still recruited. Trying to get out of the draft, as if being stupid was going to be a reason.
Richard Nixon campaigned in 1968 that he would end the draft, but once elected, like I mentioned early on, he didn’t keep his promise. Instead, he extended the draft, which expired in June 1971, for two more years. He knew the draft was expiring, and used it in his platform. But the extension was hard-fought in Congress , finally passing after a filibuster. Nixon’s main purpose for the campaign promise was to stem the growing demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. He figured, correctly, that the wave of dissension would die down if those affected no longer had to worry about going to fight. In early 1973, after the withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam, it was announced that no further draft orders would be issued. President Nixon did not issue the order, nor did he actually end the draft, in his second term, he just gets the credit. Same as Obama gets the credit for killing Osama, and Kennedy gets the credit for the “Bay of Pigs.”
I never served in the military, but I always wonder if I would be an admiral in the Coast Guard now, happily wearing starched blue uniforms with gold bars on the cuffs. Making mortal men shutter as I walk the quad. I can see me as Sergeant Major Basil Plumley in “We Were Soldiers Once..and Young.”
Sergeant Ernie Savage as he passes the Sergeant Major in the quad: “Beautiful morning, sergeant.”
Sergeant Major Basil Plumly: “What are you a f***ing weatherman now?”