Military Solution

Having been taught that I should not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it, I hereby present my military record.

Such as it is.

But it is what it is, and it began in earnest in 1967 when, as a senior in high school, I earnestly sought to win a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corp (NROTC) scholarship to Northwestern University. I believed fervently that my country was doing the right thing in Vietnam, and I was prepared to serve there, especially as an officer in the U.S. Navy.

So I took the NROTC test and failed it miserably.

I mean miserably.

Then Northwestern put me on hold, and we had an assembly at our high school for a recent graduate who had been killed in action in Vietnam, and I started to wonder.

Lots of us were wondering then. We wondered why and what and how we would survive such a war.

And although it was not a declared war, the conflict in Vietnam was taking the lives of our contemporaries. And those of us in high school in the 1960s were on a conveyor belt moving toward the inevitable drop into the steaming abyss.

Well, I certainly let it be known when I was a senior in high school that I supported the war effort in Vietnam, and that I firmly believed in the Domino Theory that held that the Red Menace was going to take all of Southeast Asia and then claim India itself if we didn’t stop it in its tracks in South Vietnam.

And so, when I was a freshman at Illinois State University, I enrolled in a U.S. Marine Corps officer-training program. A Marine captain in his dress blues had come to campus and said the Corps was looking for a few good men. So I accepted his invitation, took the necessary test, passed it with flying colors, and so enrolled in what I was told would be a series of summer training exercises that would culminate in my being commissioned as a second lieutenant upon graduation from Illinois State in 1972.

I was oh-so ready to be a combat-ready asset that I told everyone and anyone who cared to listen.

One of those who cared not to listen was a high school friend who had just returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam. We were at a party in the old neighborhood when I proudly told him of my ambition to be a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps.

He grabbed me roughly by the shoulder, hauled me outside, got in my face, and said: “If the Viet Cong don’t shoot you in the face, your men will shoot you in the back. Is there any way you can get out of this?”

“Yes,” I said, “there is.”

“Then do it! As soon as you can! Unless you want to come home in a metal box.”

My uncle, who had served stateside as a Marine officer, said essentially the same thing when I proudly informed him of my acceptance into the officer-training program.

“Get out of it,” he said. “As soon as you can.”

Other friends issued the same warnings, and I finally exercised my right to withdraw from the program.

And no sooner had I done that than they staged the biggest birthday party the Baby Boom ever had: the infamous draft lottery.

Remember?

I sure do, because, along with three fraternity brothers who shared my May 7 birthday, I was drawn as number 35. Cannon fodder for sure.

And a senior fraternity brother who had proudly served with the Marines in Vietnam told us as we sat before the house television in slack-jawed shock and awe that we four should immediately hit the floor and start doing push-ups. He was even willing to go running with us at O-Dark-Hundred to properly prepare us to become combat-ready assets.

All four of us lucky May 7th brothers ended up in uniform, proudly serving God and country. Well, the other three sure served a lot more proudly than I did, but I served too.

In a manner of speaking.

But not before I tried every way I could to enlist in the Navy Reserves or Coast Guard or National Guard or whatever outfit would keep me stateside or in West Germany going toe-to-toe with the Rooskies. I wanted to serve my country, but not in Vietnam, thank, you, very much!

Was I chicken?

Hell yes!

Did I want to die for my country from friendly fire in a rice paddy, or get fragged in the latrine by my own men, or step on a shit-smeared punji stake while walking point on patrol?

No way.

No question about it.

And I was certainly questioning the war and our reason for fighting it.

I had violent arguments with my father and his friends about it. Those World War II veterans wanted us bunch of longhaired hippies to suck it up and do the next right thing by suiting up and showing up in country ready for action.

Enlist and fight.

Right.

But, as my 2S student deferment wound down, I actively sought ways in which to save my sorry young ass.

I was too young to die, so I considered heading for Canada. No passport required, and most of them spoke the same Queen’s English I did, but I loved my country too much and didn’t want to leave.

So I studied the back of my draft card for answers and prayed for a solution.

It came under the classification of: 4D.

As in deferment for members of the clergy and those preparing to become members of the clergy such as seminarians.

Hey, I thought, I’m a cradle Episcopalian who still goes to church on campus, and the friendly local Episcopal chaplain has been advising me to check into a seminary for the duration, so I’ll do it. If I can.

Well, it turns out I could.

Seabury-Western Theological Seminary accepted me as a student, and I got my 4D deferment and thus defended Evanston, Illinois from attack by land, sea, and air.

Yes, there were fellow travelers in my seminary circles, but there were also older students who had proudly served. They didn’t think much of us draft dodgers who were hiding behind our cassocks.

Oh well.

Seems like we just couldn’t agree on the war and the draft and a whole lot of issues of the day.

Oh well.

But I did not do well as a seminarian and soon found that my life had become totally unmanageable. An Episcopal priest told me in no uncertain terms that I needed the discipline that only the military could provide.

He was right, of course, and so I enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserves in November 1973. I served six months active duty for training, at Great Lakes Recruit Training Center and at the late, great Glenview Naval Air Station. Mostly I painted bulkheads and milled about smartly.

And then I faithfully did my monthly “drills” and annual two weeks of active duty every year until November 1979 when I was honorably discharged as a Journalist Second Class, or JO2.

Both a captain and an admiral urged me to apply for a direct commission as a Public Affairs Officer so I could neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on that big honking air craft carrier anchored off shore, and I certainly gave it some thought.

But, in the end, I took the honorable discharge in ’79 as a Petty Officer Second Class.

So, you see, I served.

Not, of course, to the satisfaction of many, but I served.

So be it, and, yes, I have the paper to prove it, right there on my mantelpiece!


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