In 1961 I was in high school at St. Joe Prep, Bardstown, Ky. Our team was playing football against Old Kentucky Home. I was covering a punt and another player rolled on my right arm, breaking my arm and dislocating my elbow. I rehabbed it but did not regain full range of motion.
In my senior year at St. Joe I was a candidate for West Point. I had good grades, an appointment from a Congressman, and I was being recruited as a football player. So they flew me to West Point that winter and gave me a full physical. It turned out I had lost 30 degrees of extension in my right arm, which caused me to be rejected from West Point. (A loss of more than 15 degrees in range of motion automatically disqualifies a military applicant from service and results in a I-Y draft classification).
After that I accepted a football scholarship at Kentucky, and never had to worry about the draft or the lottery. In 1969 I went into pro football, lacking two courses to graduate. I came back to Lexington to finish school in the spring. Then my father wanted me to go through the graduation ceremony in May or June so he could attend and take pictures. So I got my cap and gown and was prepared for the ceremony just when the National Guard shootings occurred at Kent State. Protestors marched on the UK campus which caused the graduation exercises to be called off. In the end we went to my sister’s house and took pictures of me in my cap and gown in the backyard to please my father.
While I was playing in the pros, a lot of my teammates who were from all over the country got preferential treatment to enter the National Guard and avoid service in the Army, while a lot of regular guys couldn’t. I never understood that. A number of young men from Bardstown were sent over to Vietnam and had an unusually high casualty rate. It didn’t make sense that I was deferred with my I-Y but was able to play football–I probably should have been drafted.
I was fortunate and I believe that we can never do enough for the veterans who sacrificed so much for us. Cuts in VA programs to save money for the government are criminal. Any politician who votes that way should be voted out.