On that fateful December 1, 1969, I learned that my birthday was picked No. 3 but it didn’t occur to me to panic, because I was young and stupid and just couldn’t imagine being drafted. I left UCLA in the fall of 1970 and went off to Stanford for graduate school and didn’t even bother to respond to a call for my draft physical in LA. However, when the Selective Service finally caught up with me, I rescheduled my exam for the induction center in Oakland. In preparation, I attempted to beef-up a case for a deferment based on physical disability or conscientious objection, but my supporting documents were not terribly compelling. The exam itself steeled my resolve, especially at the end of the day when we were required to affirm that we did not belong to subversive organizations, such as the Palo Alto Peace League. Those few who declined to sign were obliged to remain, after everyone else left, and sign another form indicating an unwillingness to sign the first one! I’ll never forget an exit chat with a mindless sergeant who said my efforts at evasion were pointless.
My college draft counselors at UCLA and Stanford were not helpful, but a lawyer I found did the trick. For $400 I was advised to change my mailing address to Boston. A friend there received my mail from my draft board in Orange County and, in turn, I forwarded my mail via Boston. The communication delay was only incidental because the real purpose of this tactic was to divert my draft appeal through the Massachusetts Selective Service system and this court, unlike the California court, was overturning decisions of local draft boards. But everyone with a decent lawyer was using this tactic and the Massachusetts court clogged up to the point that a blanket deferment was issued just one year later. As far as I am aware, I remain classified as something called I-H.
How do I feel about this forty years later? The Vietnam war was an abomination to which no American or Vietnamese should have been subjected. In spite of Lyndon Johnson’s great achievements in civil rights and health care legislation, his memory will forever be clouded by this stain on the record of our country. But our leaders remain stupid and willing to waste life and our national wealth on military misadventures. So while we honor those men and women who gave their lives, we must elect leaders who call for that sacrifice only in the event of a national emergency.