I studied Nuclear Engineering at NC State from 1966-1970. In February of 1969, my best friend from high school in Alabama was killed in Vietnam. I had tried to talk him out of dropping out of Auburn and joining the Army, but he was stubborn and did it anyway. I was devastated by his death. I did not believe we had a right to be fighting in Vietnam before his death, and I was adamantly opposed to the war after his death.
When the first draft lottery results were announced in 1969, I came out a 19. I immediately realized there was no way I would be spared from a tour of duty in the military unless I became creative. During my senior year, I was careful to select potential employers based on the draft deferments they offered. That was not my only criteria, but it was high on the list. The job I finally selected was with a major design and construction company located in the Washington DC area, and it came with the assurance of an occupational deferment. I was elated, but not for long
During the spring of 1970, President Nixon announced that he was doing away with job deferments. I was living with some classmates at the time on Chamberlain Street near campus. We watched the broadcast on our black & white TV. At the end of the broadcast, we drove to a liquor store and bought several cases of beer. We finished off most of that beer that same night while lamenting our futures in the Army.
Not long after Nixon made his announcement, my selected employer sent me a letter withdrawing their assurance of a draft deferment. This was followed by my change in classification from II-S to I-A when I graduated. It was time to take action, and I had no interest in living in Canada.
When I was interviewing for the job I had accepted near DC, I had investigated all of the military opportunities in that area. The only opening I found was in the Marine Corps Reserves in the Washington Navy Yard. The day after I arrived in Maryland to start my new job, I went down and signed up for duty in that reserve unit. However, their reserve opening did not start until October, so I had several months in which to grow long hair and be a regular DC guy. I enjoyed those months.
Needless to say, my introduction to life in the Marines was a shock after starting to live the good life in DC. I ran track and played football in high school. I was on the freshman track team at NC State. I was in great shape when I reported for training at Parris Island in October 1970. I knew how to deal with physical and mental discipline. However, nothing I had done in my life had prepared me for the physical and mental rigors of the US Marines. If we were not engaged in tough physical exercises, we were memorizing manuals or cleaning weapons. For ten weeks I had a drill instructor or two or three observing everything I did…and making sure I had no thoughts except those allowed by the Corps. I had never experienced so much lack of freedom of thought.
At one point in my Parris Island training, we were given the opportunity to take a battery of intelligence tests. We were also asked to complete forms indicating our skills and education prior to enlisting. I was proud of my time at NC State, and I listed all of my accomplishments, including the fact that I had graduated with honors in Nuclear Engineering. While I was completing those forms, I let a few civilian thoughts enter my mind. I wondered what kind of great job offers I would get from the Corps after they read of my accomplishments. I found out the following week.
At the end of one of our exercise programs, I was asked to accompany the drill instructors into the guard shack at the end of barracks. They said they wanted to talk with me about the forms I had completed the previous week. Just as I entered the guard shack, the smallest of the drill instructors jumped up on a chair in front of me. He bent over and lifted me by the collar of my training utilities (green shirt) until his face was right in my face. He was yelling at the top of his voice. He yelled, “Private, since you know how to split atoms, I am going to give you this opportunity to split me. Just go ahead at take a lick. I know you want to because I know you are really a redneck from Alabama with too much book learning.” His face was beet red and in great contrast to his big white eyeballs as he held me there and stared right through me.
I probably only hung there a few seconds, but it felt like years. I hung there long enough to realize that the forms I had completed the week before had done nothing to help me in the US Marines. I also understood better the expression, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” The beauty these drill instructors held in their eyes was that I was no better than them. I was still a redneck deep down inside. From that moment forward, I knew I would never have much in common with the US Marine Corps.