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Seventy-seven Days and Counting

 Earth Date:  August 17, 2020

When the Vietnam War was at its worst in the 1960’s and early 70’s, the military draft was still in effect and thirty-five thousand young men between the ages of 18 through 25 were called up each month to serve in the US military. It was law and to defy that law meant federal imprisonment.  

There were several ways a young man could circumvent the system. They could opt for a deferment. After high school, they could continue on to college or get married. Either option was a deferment. It kept them on the rolls but they would not be called to serve unless under dire conditions.

My older brother was one year ahead of me in high school, so I saw what happened to young males as they reached eighteen years of age. They were required by federal law to sign up with the Selective Service. Because he was a junior in high school, my brother could not be drafted until after he graduated, but if he signed up for college immediately, carried a full load of classes, and stayed in good standing, his deferment extended for an additional four years. Marriage was out of the question for him so my parents encouraged him to sign up for college. Maybe by then, the war or the draft would be history.   

If my brother chose not to go to college, he could enlist on his own and thereby choose which branch of the service he wanted to join. If he waited, hoping that the lottery (yes, a lottery based on birthdays) would not choose him, the chances were high he would get drafted and the military would assign him to the branch of service where they needed him. Back then the National Guard did not deploy its soldiers outside the states, and everyone knew that the Air Force and the Navy had far less casualties because their men did not fight on the ground, so it was no surprise that their enlistment quota filled up quickly. There was little doubt if my brother waited to be drafted, he would end up in the Army or the Marines.  

Parents with money or connections could ask the family doctor or a Congressman for favors and their sons either got out of being drafted or were stationed to safer zones. A desk job in the states or a stint in Hawaii. Our family had a little to keep my brother safe. Young men like my brother had little options.  

My brother went to college after high school, but he majored in girls his freshman year instead of business administration, so while he sat out a year on academic probation, he got his draft letter. He was told when and where to show up for his induction. He and the others were given physical and mental tests. Their backgrounds were checked for any criminal or violent records, and a few cited religious objections to the war. Their claim was not taken kindly and were assigned to “nonviolent” positions that were often demeaning and punitive. Warrants were issued for those who did not show up for their physicals, but many of those “constitutionally” objected to the draft and had other plans. Some preferred federal prison, while others abandoned their citizenship and sought asylum in Canada.

My older brother passed his “physical,” and he came home that evening an Army recruit.  A few months later he spent his twenty-first birthday in Vietnam. He served two years in the Army and came home the year he would have been a senior in college. It was that same year the government made the last call for draftees needed for Vietnam. Had he stayed in school, his education would have been very different.


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