I’ll never forget that day, listening to the numbers being pulled that would determine my future. I was a senior at Penn State and a bunch of us were hovered over the radio holding our breath as each number was pulled. It seemed so surreal.
After hearing my number selected, I knew I would be drafted since they said the first 120 numbers would go for sure. I was kind of numb but my first thought was that I hoped I’d at least graduate before being inducted. My parents had spent a lot of money helping me through school and I wanted at least to finish and get my degree.
I did graduate and was drafted into the US Army on December 1970. I took my basic at Fort Campbell, KY. Graduated E2, Private First Class. Took my AIT at Fort Belvoir, VA – engineers school – generator operator. Graduated as an Honor Graduate. Despite being forced into the Army and it coming at a most inopportune time in my life, I nevertheless liked the Army and did well but I didn’t want to go to Vietnam and end up like one of my high school friends who was killed in ’68 at Khe Shan.
After graduation I received my orders for Vietnam. I remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’m not ashamed to admit I was scared. Also bitter that my friends back home had by the luck of the draw escaped the draft and were getting on with their lives and careers. By this time the war was very unpopular. When passing through the Pittsburgh airport in uniform I remember a group of young people shouting at me calling me a “baby killer.” That was depressing to say the least.
Deserting was never an option I considered – I wasn’t brave but accepted my fate. I don’t condemn those that escaped to Canada – maybe that took more bravery than just going along with the flow as I did.
As I prepared to leave for ‘Nam, my guardian Angel interceded more or less. In 1968 I had contracted a deadly blood disease but miraculously survived. The condition reappeared just before I was about to disembark for ‘Nam. I was sent to Walter Reed for treatment and my orders for ‘Nam cancelled. The specialist at Walter Reed was shocked that I was drafted with my medical history.
While undergoing treatment as an outpatient, and being a college graduate, I was assigned to work for a Chaplain in DeWitt Army Hospital. I also helped with firearms training of doctors who were being sent to Vietnam. The experience at Walter Reed was sobering – I saw the worst combat casualties – this wasn’t like the John Wayne movies at all.
I made a complete recovery from my illness, attained the rank of E4, and was Honorably discharged in 1972. I was one of the lucky ones, I survived. Married a fine woman, had a wonderful daughter, and two fabulous grandchildren.
I visited the Vietnam War Memorial and was choked with emotion seeing my high school friend’s name on that black wall. Whether you agreed with the war or not, those soldiers deserve our respect – they did their duty the best way they knew how. God Bless of of them for their service.