I think about that episode all the time, both for the arbitrary nature of who had to serve and for the way it affected my life.
Like several of the other stories, I was also at that Duke basketball game in Greensboro. We had a guy a couple of rows up listening to his transistor radio (remember those!) for when our birthdays were drawn. We were all relieved to not have our numbers called until listening to the radio on the way back to school after the game. As they re-read the list, I was No. 38 and my roommate was No. 100.
When we got back to school, the guys in our house were partying for having gotten high numbers. Those of us with lower numbers felt pretty much like we’d been sentenced to jail for 2 years with no possibility of parole.
When I was about to graduate, I called my draft board back in PA to ask about how much time I’d have after graduation before getting my Greetings letter. They said I was the first folder in the drawer and would probably be called within a week or two after getting home. I asked what options I had and he said if I volunteered for the draft I’d still only serve two years but could delay induction for up to 3 months. I chose that option on the spot.
In that 3-month interval I spent a week with my roommate at his house in NY. We met 2 girls in a bar and drove to a Who concert with them. When I told him I had volunteered for the draft, he told me I was crazy.
During the countdown to induction I started getting letters from that girl I met in the bar. I reported to the US Army at Ft Dix for basic training. In the next platoon was my roommate from Duke who decided to get it over with as I had. We both got assigned to MP school in Augusta, GA where they were sending all recruits who had any college … including us with our big bad Duke diplomas.
Our cycle at MP school was literally the last one where MPs were still sent to Vietnam. All the MPs with a last name between A-L were assigned to go to Vietnam. M-Z to missile sites in Germany. With our names at M and S we were good to go, but not too excited about standing in missile towers.
We both shipped to Frankfurt, Germany and were sent to our respective buses for transfer. He left for his assigned missile site. Our bus went to downtown Frankfurt. The MPs that met our bus told us we’d been put on the wrong bus, but we weren’t going anywhere. They hadn’t had MPs sent there for the last year.
I ended up at V Corps headquarters in the IG Farben Bldg in Frankfurt. It was good duty and allowed for a lot of travelling. I continued to get letters from that girl in NY.
One day I was on desk duty and spun around to help two people who were looking for someone. As my chair swivelled around it was my roommate and the girl he had met that night in the bar, asking where they could find me. And there I was. That was just too weird. They told me the girl I had met was just waiting for me to invite her to come over. So I did.
Fast forward 38 years. My roommate not only did his 2 years in the Army but parlayed it into a 30+-year career in the VA. I did my 2 years, and came back to a career that has taken us to places all over the country. Both of us married those two girls and we get together and talk frequently. We both go to Europe frequently and are talking about going together next year.
When I think about those MPs whose names started A-L, they were the ones in Vietnam that were running for the exits when the US pulled out. I’m sure some of them were helping to push those helicopters into the bay. My roommate and I ended up essentially with a European vacation. Sure, we didn’t have much choice in giving up those two years, but the experience absolutely changed our lives and our perspectives. It was good.