Sunday, May 26, 2013

How Ozarks Boy dodged the draft

By R.D. Hohenfeldt
Managing Editor/OzarksAlmanac.com

On Monday, we will honor the men and women who have given their life in service to our nation. A Memorial Day service will be held at 10 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial Park in Rolla, and I encourage you to attend. I have been to many Memorial Day services since I moved my family here back in the previous century. When I covered the services for the paper, there were two of them, one at the city cemetery and one at the private ceremony. I would take pictures at both.
Covering a Memorial Day service required me to work on a holiday, but I didn’t mind, usually. I remember one year when I refused to go; instead, I used the holiday for a family event. I felt so guilty about not honoring the veterans that I never again skipped, and if I didn’t go to the services myself, I made sure someone else did.
I felt compelled to cover the Memorial Day services with story and pictures as my little way of making up for being a Sixties draft dodger.
I turned 18 on July 19, 1971, and I registered for the draft as required by law for any young man born in 1953. When I told the clerk at the Selective Service office that I would start attending the University of Missouri the following month, I got something called a student deferment. I don’t remember what my classification was, I-S maybe, and the lady at the draft board said it really didn’t mean a thing. She told me that I would be included in a national lottery at some point in the future, and if my number were drawn, the I-S (or whatever it was) wouldn’t mean a dadburn thing.
I remember she told me that I had to carry my draft card with me and was not to deface it, damage it or destroy it.
That August I went to Columbia, moved into the dorm with a bunch of other guys born in 1953, and started going to classes. We all carried our draft cards in our wallets with our driver’s license and our student ID cards. We all worried a little bit about the lottery we knew was coming up sometime.
I had to check the Selective Service website today to refresh my memory about the draft lottery. There was a lottery on Dec. 1, 1969, the first one since 1942. That was to determine who would be drafted in 1970. It was for all men born between Jan. 1, 1944, and Dec. 31, 1950.
“There were 366 blue plastic capsules containing birth dates placed in a large glass container and drawn by hand to assign order-of-call numbers to all men within the 18-26 age range specified in Selective Service law,” according to the Selective Service history.
More lotteries were held on July 1, 1970, and Aug. 5, 1971, for men born in 1951 and 1952, respectively.
I could have volunteered to go to Vietnam, and I supposed that would have been the honorable thing to do. I remember thinking, though, that it would be a stupid thing for me to do, because I was sure to wind up dead.
Now, I wasn’t too worried about being shot to death by an oriental person in Vietnam or one of those other countries. I was more concerned about dying in basic training. I just knew I would be run to death. Running was not something I did well. I was a pudgy high school kid, although I wasn’t nearly as fat as today’s obese high schoolers, and I hated PE class.
A demonically possessed (or so it seemed to me) fellow by the name of Coach Al Houser was our PE “instructor” and he made us “run the stairs” in the gym daily, and after we were sufficiently warmed up doing that we would run these other delightful exercises called “wind sprints,” in which we ran from the boundary line under the basketball goal to a line even with the foul line, then back, then to the centerline, and back, then to the foul line on the other side, and back, then all the way to the other basketball goal and back and then back to the other side again.
Sometimes, just for the fun of it, Coach Houser would add in the ends of the foul circles as places from which to run to and fro.
Oh, it was great fun for him, and for the other guys in the PE class to watch me huffing and puffing alone on that last leg of the wind sprint, for they would all be finished while I was dragging my sorry butt across the floor.
That was my freshman year of high school. I was required to take another year of PE to graduate, so I put it off until my senior year. Then I concocted a wild lie about why I would be unable to take PE; I don’t even remember what it was, but the high school principal said I could get out of PE if I would write a long paper on some health-related subject. I threw together something at the last minute that wasn’t very good. Although the principal expressed his displeasure, he accepted the paper, and I graduated in May of 1971.
I did not volunteer, for I knew that if I went into the Army, a demonically possessed drill sergeant would take pleasure in torturing a pudgy Ozarks Boy with wind sprints, or worse, and I would die of exhaustion and oxygen depletion.
That, not fear of being shot to death, was the main reason I did not volunteer to take a trip paid for by the Army to South Vietnam.
The lottery for those of us born in 1953 was held on Feb. 2, 1972.
The capsule containing July 19 was the 332nd one picked. That assured me that I had indeed dodged the 1973 draft and I could continue my education. No draft orders were issued after 1972, so I was home free.
While other young men were dying in South Vietnam and those countries for reasons that I am not clear about to this day, I was able to go on to journalism school and then take a job with a newspaper and spend my life writing.
I still feel some guilt about dodging the draft, so I do what I can to thank veterans and honor them. I won’t be able to attend the Memorial Day service, because I have a day job in retail, and in the United States, the day to honor fallen veterans is the day most people celebrate the beginning of summer by spending a lot of money.
I can’t attend, but I’ll be saying a prayer of gratitude at 10 a.m. Monday for the men and women who did not dodge the draft.