1969 was the year of my college graduation. Being the son of a career Army veteran who served in WW II, Korea and Vietnam, when all this started I had no solid feelings of my own about Vietnam. During the rough early times at school, I often considered dropping out and enlisting. After improving my grades, I also attempted to get a late appointment to the West Point Military Academy, but decided against it before my application was turned down. By my senior year, I came to have a negative view of the Vietnam War and marched with my then girlfriend (now my wife) in protest.
To show how my thoughts and feelings developed later during this tumultuous time for our country, after I was actually in the military and with a child on the way, I even considered but finally could not countenance desertion and emigration to Sweden.
So approaching graduation, newly married and with the expiration of my II-S student status, I went to my local draft board to register along with hundreds of others. The little old lady sitting behind the table took one look at my long hair, sniffed, and asked for my draft card. She wrote down the needed information, handed back my card and told me I would be drafted within six weeks of graduation! She then said (I’ll never forget those words), "That’s what you get for going to college." There went any thoughts of grad school or getting a job!
The whole draft registration experience motivated me to explore OCS and enlistment options in other services. I soon decided to enlist in the Air Force — just before the draft lottery was started. THAT seriously had me wondering if I’d made the wrong decision. After basic training and into my specialist training, the lottery was finally held. My draft number was 3.
My Air Force experience was mostly enjoyable but I did come to develop a strong animosity toward the casual disregard for individualism and the extreme caste system between enlisted men and officers. My anti-war feeling grew much stronger even though my closest experience with war was the TV news and our bi-weekly, early morning alerts on the flight line with my family, waiting to see if this was the time we were actually being sent to Vietnam. But that never did happen. In the years afterward as I developed friendships with so many that were sent to Vietnam, I realized how fortunate I was to be excluded.
Trying to summarize the long-term effect of this whole experience is difficult. In some ways, it simply delayed the plans I had by my four-year enlistment. But it also allowed my youthful attitudes and views to develop, be crystallized and guide me throughout my life. I survived it all intact and with little final impact. But the negative impact of the draft board encounter, the lottery process, and my experience with the military mind has also colored my life and my feelings about "political" wars. I have to admire and appreciate what our serving military men do for us. But I also have to abhor the choices made to employ them, the rationales used to engage them, and the lives thrown away before they ever really have the chance to develop that I had.