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April 14th, 2018

Greetings From Uncle Sam!

I was going through the stuff in my fireproof safes to sort things into the new fireproof file safe I had to buy, because the older you get the more paperwork you seem to accumulate that you just can’t loose. Things like the deed to my house for instance, and my will. I found a folder of paperwork that went way back to my teen years and let the contents take me back to another time.

Nixon was president, and the Vietnam war was still going strong, when I got this in the mail…

It’s the thing that sets a sharp and unbridgeable divide between us Kennedy era baby boomers and the Reagan era ones. They never felt the touch of the draft. We lived under its shadow the moment we turned 18 and by law had to register at our local draft office. Mine was in the old Rockville post office. I still distinctly remember the sign inside, hanging above the door where we could see it as we sat and filled out our form, Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here. Draft office humor. Ha Ha.

On the day above I went to the address in the letter, which was not the old post office but another nearby place where two buses were waiting to take us to Fort Mead for processing. I remember sitting there among all the other scared teenage boys as soldiers from the Navy, Marines and Air Force came aboard and tried to talk us into enlisting because, as they said, we’d get a better deal from them than from the Army. Some took the bait and walked off the bus with them. I stayed.

I remember getting to Fort Mead, having to strip down to my underwear and line up with the others to be processed like cattle. Not even that first group shower in Jr. High made me feel so humiliated. This wasn’t about hygiene…a point was being made. From now on we were not to even think of ourselves as human: we were government property, to be used and disposed of as the military wanted. We were poked and prodded, told to cough, told to drop our pants and bend over…I still have no idea what the doctors were looking for as they peered at our butt holes other than maybe evidence of sodomy. That was still illegal in the state of Maryland and in the military, and as I sat in my underwear in a room with the others,¬†answering questions on a form, I debated being honest about my sexual orientation because I reckoned that would get me out of it. But at what cost? In addition to asking about medical and family history (Has anyone in your family been confined to a mental institution?) the form listed dozens of organizations and asked if you belonged to any of them. I reckoned answering yes would put me on a list of suspected communists and at that moment I wasn’t sure which was more dangerous. When I came to the are you a homosexual question I lied and said no because I was afraid of getting put on a list of known sexual deviants. And if you think that’s being paranoid you were not a homosexual in 1972.

At the end of it all they said I didn’t measure up, being eleven pounds under the minimum weight for getting drafted. I think I was 5’9″ and 112 pounds back then, which was about typical for me. I was a scrawny thin as a rail boy all through grade school, and a favorite story of mine is when I went to visit a classmate at his home and the next day at school he tells me his mom asked if I was a heroin addict. So I was spared becoming Vietnam cannon fodder. I got a letter temporarily excusing me and was told I’d be called back in six months to see if I’d improved any. Before that could happen however, Nixon turned off the draft. Not that I was in any mind to gain weight after that.

If I can point to any one thing that fueled the counter culture and the protests of the 60s it is that war and the draft that gave it tens of thousands of young men like me, full of life’s hopes and dreams, to eat. So much human potential that was lost to this country, to humanity, that we will never even know.

And it scares me to think that had I been recruitment bait when Al Qaeda attacked us on 9-11, I’d have probably gone right down to enlist, lied again about my sexual orientation to get myself into the fight, and been promptly turned into Iraq cannon fodder, or maybe Somalia cannon fodder, or some other place where we are fighting pointless needless wars so politicians can thump their chests for angry old white votes.¬†

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Visit The Woodward Class of '72 Reunion Website For Fun And Memories, WoodwardClassOf72.com


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