My birthday is February 14. Being born on Valentine’s day never caused me any problems, until the draft lottery. I always felt bad for my cousin who was born on Christmas day and never really got birthday presents separate from Christmas presents, but I didn’t have that trouble. In fact, after I started dating, a girlfriend might even give me a special present for Valentine-birthday. But on the night of the lottery, I came up number four on the list for Vietnam.
I was an average student, not really in danger of flunking out but more interested in playing guitar, singing and listening to the folk and folk-rock music of the time–from Peter Paul and Mary to Gordon Lightfoot to Dylan and the Beatles. I never liked rules or uniforms or joining organizations so I knew I’d be a bad fit for the army. And the idea of going to fight, to shoot and kill and maybe be killed, filled me with dread. Each day after the lottery that feeling got worse and worse until I couldn’t think of anything else.
So I went to talk to an army recruiter to explore the options. According to him, my being colorblind would at least keep me out of the fighting. But I wasn’t sure I believed him, and enlisting meant four years of service instead of two. I decided not to sign up, and instead waited for what would happen next.
I received my orders to report for the draft physical in February, I think. I showed up at the center with all the other scared, too-young kids. I felt more and more hemmed-in and panicky as the long day wore on. Then we were in a room with a lot of windows, like a classroon, taking the written test. They had me sitting at a desk right beside the windows. I couldn’t focus on the test–I could only think about getting out of there, outside the windows where the sun was shining and the rest of the world was going about its business as usual. The soldier in charge of the room starting yelling out more instructions that didn’t even seem to be in English. I remember getting up, putting both hands on the back of the chair and then hurling it at the closest window. Everyone seemed to freeze at the sound of shattering glass. Then I jumped up on the window sill and fell outside on the grass.
I guess I knew better than to try to run away. I just stayed on my hands and knees, trying to catch my breath, and in just a minute three muscular soldiers were all around me. Since I wasn’t running they weren’t rough–they just got my to my feet and marched me right back inside the building, this time to a small room with no windows. Two of them waited with me for what seemed like a long time, maybe a half-hour in reality. I wondered what kind of trouble I was in. Then they took me to an office where a man with glasses and a white coat asked me questions for a while, about my family life and if I had any past psychiatric hospital admissions and so forth. Finally he made some notations on a folder in front of him and said the army would not be needing me. He gave the folder to my escort and we went outside to another line where guys were being allowed to leave the center. The last soldier of my day looked at the folder and stamped it with a IV-F, and then they let me out.
To this day I can’t say how much of what happened that day was real and how much was just an act. Nothing like that ever happened to me before or since. As far as the army was concerned, I guess the chair going through the window was real enough.