I attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, during the years 1969 – 1971 after completing my first two years of college near my home at the UW Sheboygan Center Campus. I feel privileged to have attended the UW during that unique and memorable time in history. I will never forget the anti-war protests and the lines of National Guard troops. One evening while I and two friends were on our way out to the protests, a line of guardsmen formed on the sidewalk across from the Selery Hall Residence Dorm. One of my friends picked up a rock and threw it at the line of guardsmen. The next second the three of us were running through the courtyard between Ogg and Selery Halls with exploding tear gas grenades bursting at our heels. I don’t think I’ve ever run faster in my life, all the while screaming at my friend for throwing that rock.
Since my birthday is December 24, 1947, I was included in the first draft lottery held on December 1, 1969. I remember gathering with several other potential lottery winners at a friend’s apartment to watch the proceedings on TV. When my number, 95, was called I was outraged. Not outraged at my friends who all got numbers high enough to avoid the draft. I was actually happy for all my friends. But outraged that my country would expect me to go fight in a war that I, by then, had come to believe was an unnecessary waste of human lives. I was a scrawny, 130 pound, uncoordinated guy and besides, even though I had not yet come out, I was gay.
For days after the lottery, life seemed pointless. I walked around attending classes in a daze with emotions wavering between anger and fear. But gradually days and months passed, the lottery was forgotten, and life went on attending classes, football, basketball and hockey games. Then one day, while cleaning my apartment, I lifted a small table with some books on it. The table turned out to be much heavier than I expected, and I injured my back. For several days I hoped the pain would diminish, but it only got worse. Finally, one afternoon I stopped in at the UW Health Center Clinic. The doctor confirmed that the injury was only a pulled muscle, but in the examination process discovered that my right leg was 3/4 inch longer than my left. He recommended that I have the heel on my left shoe built up to compensate for the difference.
The next time I was home on break in Sheboygan, I told my mom what the doctor said and she sent me to a shoe repair shop. The heel on my left shoe was built up 3/4 inch and that was that. I was in Pharmacy School which then was a five year bachelor degree program, and my student deferment kept me from getting called up for the draft until after I graduated in June, 1971. The bombing of the Math Sciences building had occurred during the summer between my Junior and Senior school years. When I returned to the campus in the fall of 1970, the mood on campus was subdued. The protests and the National Guard were gone. It was like being on a different planet.
That fall, my life began to change too. I got an apartment with three other guys who I had met in the dorm during my first year at UW Madison. For the first time I was out of touch with friends from home except for those with whom I attended class. I decided to be true to my inner self and attend a Gay Liberation meeting. Even though I still kept my identity hidden from most of my friends and my family, I accepted myself as a homosexual. I felt happier than I had been in years. I was more relaxed and comfortable with myself. I was able to concentrate better in classes, and my grades improved. I started going to the gay bars, meeting new friends and having a good time. At last I felt like I was no longer alone and belonged on this earth with everyone else. My new happiness overshadowed any anxiety I had over potentially being drafted.
After graduation I moved to Manitowoc where my student deferment continued for another year while I completed pharmacy internship at a retail pharmacy. When my internship was completed, I moved back into my parent’s house in Sheboygan. There I worked in a factory that fabricated wood and paperboard parts while seeking a job with a pharmaceutical manufacturer. I worked the night shift and when I woke up one day my mom gave me the news that I had received a letter from the Selective Service. I nervously opened the envelope and read that I was ordered to report for my physical for the military draft. My mom asked me what the letter said. I started to talk but got all choked up. So I handed the letter to her to read. She turned to me with tears in her eyes and suggested that I talk to our family doctor to see if he would write a letter saying that I should be excused from military duty because I required special shoes to compensate for the difference in the length of my legs.
That afternoon I called our doctor and explained the situation to him. He said that he’d have to examine me to verify the UW doctor’s findings, and if they were correct, he would be pleased to write a letter to keep me out of that awful war. I made an appointment, the doctor confirmed the findings, and signed a letter explaining why I should be excused from military duty. The day of my physical I reported in the early morning as required to board the bus in front of the Sheboygan County Court House. There were only about ten guys there for the bus ride to Milwaukee.
When we got to Milwaukee we were among a horde of guys going through the ordeal. I don’t remember much about that day except walking around in scivvys for hours with groups of other guys. I remember filling out a form at one point. The last set of questions had to do with sexual orientation, and I truthfully answered that I would rather go out with the guys than on a date with a girl and that I was a homosexual. I expected to be pulled out to be interviewed by a psychiatrist after that, but I was just ordered along with the rest of the group to which I was assigned. I don’t remember when, but at some point I turned in the letter from my doctor to be included in my records.
The day seemed to drag on and I was physically and emotionally drained by the time we got to the last session. There they separated some of us from the rest of the group, and one by one we were let into a room behind closed doors. When my turn came, I walked into that room with a feeling of fear and a lump in my throat. A single officer sat behind a desk at one end of the long room. He asked me my name and opened a file folder. I stood there nervously while he paged through the file and stopped to read at certain spots. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he asked me about the special shoe requirement. I said that because my left leg was shorter, I had to have the heel of my left shoe built up to avoid pain in my back. He asked me to walk up and down the room, away from him and then back toward him. I did that and stopped in front of the desk. He took a rubber stamp, inked it up on a pad, and stamped something on a couple of pages in the file. Then he looked up at me and said "You will be permanently disqualified. You may go." I turned around and silently to myself said "Yes!" as I left the room.
The bus was quiet on the way back home except for one guy in the back who was complaining because he was sure he was getting drafted. I was afraid to say anything. I thought I would feel really happy about being found 4-F, but I didn’t for some reason. I felt relieved that I wouldn’t have to go to Nam to fight in the war, but not really happy. I guess I realized I had just been through another life changing event. The loud mouth in the back kept asking everyone how they did. Finally he looked at me and asked "What about you?" I simply said that I was found to be 4-F. He asked "Why? You some kind of faggot or something?" That made me burn inside, but I wasn’t strong enough to say "Yeah. So what of it?" like I wanted to say. So I just explained about the special shoe requirement. He then said "Boy, what dumb luck. I wish I had something like that." At that everyone laughed just as we arrived back home.