In 1969, I totally opposed the Vietnam War but I was #41 in the draft lottery. I was at UCLA so I had a 2-S student deferment but once I graduated I would be reclassified 1-A and drafted.
I went to free draft counseling at Papa Bach Bookstore (deep gratitude to the lawyer who donated his time) and was told to regularly utilize the Student Health Center and build up a case on my left knee which had had surgery in HS but had never given me any problems.
Three month before I graduated, I requested an early draft physical. It was an all-day event with hundreds of others draftees. At the end, 30 of us sat in a classroom and took the mental exam.
The test monitor, who was just a few years older than us, warned us, “Don’t try to fail this exam cause we will just make you take it over & over again until you pass.”
Once we finished and received our results, surprise, everyone passed. The test monitor crowed, “You’re all in.”
I raised my hand, “Excuse me, I have some letters regarding my knee and have to see an orthopedic specialist.”
“If you got this far, you’re in son. But the specialist is on the third floor.”
So another man, who also had letters, and I went up to the third floor. It was a long hallway of offices with all the doors closed. The other man, who was caucasian, said, “I’ve heard it’s bad to get a black doctor cause they see so many blacks going over to ‘Nam, so they don’t give any slack.”
Then the door opened and there stood a bespectacled black doctor.
The other man went in as I remained in the hall. With the door ajar I listened as the doctor assessed the other man.
“Your letters aren’t valid. They’re dated November. That’s not valid. You’re 1-A son.”
I looked at my letters. They were dated November. My eyes started to glass over and my stomach just collapsed. I was screwed. I was going to get drafted. I was going to Vietnam. And it was at that crisis moment that I knew I wasn’t going into the military, I was going to Canada. There was no way I was going to ‘Nam and be shot at by both sides.
I almost shredded my letters right then and was about to head north…but I stopped myself. I came this far, I might as well finish it out.
So when the shattered future draftee departed, I went in.
The doctor took my letters then rolled up my left pant leg, manipulated my knee then returned back to his desk and started writing. I just stood there looking out the window at the street covered in a dense fog. He seemed to scribble for hours. He held my future in his hands. My left knee really started aching. Finally I asked, “What do you think, doc?” Then he said the words I longed to hear, “You’re out, son. 4F.”
Outside shafts of sunlight lanced through the fog.
From 41 to 4F. I felt reborn.