Although my birth date is 1948, I was already drafted and serving by the time of the first lottery.
I was drafted and ordered to service on May 21, 1969. I have been told the May 1969 draft call was the month of the largest draft in U.S history. It was a few months after the Tet Offensive.
At the time of my draft I was working full time and taking 11 units in college. Having never "won" anything or having been picked for anything, I gave no concern to being drafted. I was more concerned with earning a living and earning a college degree then what was going on in a war half a world away.
When I was drafted I thought about all of the other men and women who had served our country in one form or another, some in the military and some in various other capacities. I felt it was my turn and my duty to serve, regardless of my believes about the war or the then current administration. I thought about what message does it send to other countries if the U.S. people can not raise a military force.
I wasn’t in favor of the war. I was not interested in being in the military or fighting in a war. I was frightened.
I felt it was my duty to step up when called and take my turn serving my country as others had done for hundreds of years before me. I owed it to those who came before me and to those who came after. What if there was no one to step up and fight our Revolutionary War or the wars that came after?
I was married at the time I got drafted, had a very good job, a home and all the stuff that went with it. I felt that I had my life together for the first time. My childhood had been filled with abandonment, abuse and neglect.
On May 21st, 1969 my wife dropped me off at the appointed time and the appointed place. Before the end of the day I was in the Army at Fort Ord, California working on my count down of 730 days. They told us 20% of us would die in a jungle and the difference between who died and who lived had a great deal to do with how well we learned what we were about to be taught.
For the first time in my life I was mixed in with a true cross section of American men. My basic training unit had men of every race and walk of life. What it did not have, as I look back, was any men from well to do or powerful families.
My Army entry battery of test scores was so high that they offered to send me to West Point. A dozen times an officer came to me during basic training to persuade me to go to West Point and become a military officer. Knowing that I would owe the Army five years of service after finishing West Point soured me on their "free" college education, with pay, offer. I turned them down and took my chances.
I learned the lessons the Army taught me very well. I was one of the stars of my basic training unit and set a range record on the rifle qualification range that I am sure stands today. I was first in my unit in half of the basic training testing categories. I wanted to give myself the best chance of survival.
My wife dumped me before I finished basic training (I didn’t know it until later however). She probably didn’t want to wait two years and may have thought I may not come back anyway. My wife, home, car and dog were all gone, to whom I do not know. As bad as my luck had been from draft day to my first permanent duty station, my luck was about to change, in a big way.
My first permanent duty station was with the Army’s Command Headquarters of the Pacific (Honolulu, Hawaii). I was assigned to a personal department where I had a five day a week desk job. It wasn’t long before I was in charge of the office and living downtown Waikiki. I learned personnel management and how to lead a team of men. You can imagine my life style and how fortune it was that my wife dumped me.
From Hawaii the Army sent me (due to some fluke in the HQ’s personnel department) to the Command Headquarters of Thailand (Bangkok and Korat, Thailand). I learned my Army lessons well. On the way to Thailand, I spent less than an hour in Vietnam. Living in Hawaii in 1969 was hell compared to Thailand in 1970.
After serving my time I was released from the Army on a street corner in Oakland, CA. I owned nothing but a duffle bag of clothes. I had no home, no address, no wife, no car, no job and no dog. I did have a wealth of experience and training as well as a deep seated confidence in myself, all courtesy of the U.S. Army. I had seen and experienced Hawaii and Thailand. Technically I served in a war zone during war and was a Vietnam vet. Oh yes, I did have a telephone number of a couple of San Francisco Bay area girls that I meet in Hawaii that were on their way to pick me up.
The Army training, experience and benefits gave me the tools to graduate from college and law school and to go on to have a fruitful and fulfilling life. As it turned out, getting drafted and reporting to do my duty was one of the best things that ever happened to me.