Peace and War in the Heartland - Veterans Stories - A006


Semper Fi – or How I Dodged the Draft – A006

I had friends of the family who had already served in Vietnam as early as 1963. My big brother wound up in the Marine Corps by 1967 when the judge offered him, “…either two years in Stillwater prison or four years in the United States Marine Corps”. To Eddie, it was a no-brainer and he became a marine.

Throughout high school I had watched about a quarter to a third of the male graduates from my school either get drafted or enlist. By the time I graduated in the spring of 1969, the war in Vietnam was actually getting hotter and showed no signs of letting up.

I already knew what happened to blue-collar guys like me. No one in my family even knew how to fill out a college entrance form. With only so-so grades and no hope for a scholarship, I took a good hard look at what lay ahead.

Eddie would write letters from the DMZ and had already won a few medals during The Tet Offensive of 1968. He spelled it out very clearly. The Army would train me for seven weeks of boot camp and then for maybe two weeks of infantry training and I would be on my way to the meat grinder of Vietnam. On the other hand, the Marines would keep me for thirteen weeks of boot camp and then at least four more weeks of infantry training. After thirty days leave, they would then train me in a specialty. He made it very clear that Vietnam was far worse than anyone back home could imagine.

I had already talked to the Air Force recruiters. There was a four-year waiting list to enlist in the Air Force. The Navy recruiters only had a two-year wait to join the Navy. That was still plenty of time to get drafted. The Army recruiters made lots of promises of special training that would keep you out of harms way. I had also talked to lots of army enlistees who all said those promises were not worth a hill of beans. The marine recruiter only promised me, “a rifle, a pack and a hard time”. So, I enlisted in the Marine Corps in order to dodge the draft.

At the induction center, they poked and prodded us and asked lots of personal questions. “Do you like girls? (Yes!) Are you afraid of going into combat? (Hell yes!) Do you think you will enjoy killing?” (God, I hope not!) After several hours of that, they sent the Navy guys to one corner of the room, the few Air Force guys to another corner and us Marine enlistees to a third. All the Army draftees were then lined up and made to count off, “One, Two, Three, One, Two, Three… All you threes take one-step forward. Now go over and join those guys going to the Marines. You have just been drafted into the Marine Corps”!

All the marine recruits hooted and hollered and said for them to come on over to the good group. They came with pale faces looking like they had just seen a ghost. Enough has been said about basic training that I won’t go into that here.

Three years later I was discharged and the war was winding down. By that time, I had learned what the “Thousand Yard Stare” looks like from both sides of my face. I learned that I would finally be home for Christmas. I knew friends who died and had held some of the survivors together with my bare hands. I had seen some that were destroyed by some of the most potent drugs in the world and others that would never know another sober day in their lives. I had also been the official Marine Funeral Escort for my brother. He had lots of chest salad. A Silver Star, three Bronze Stars all with combat “V” and five Purple Hearts. He could have gone home sooner, but he liked the drugs just a little too much.

I am now part of the Marine Corps brotherhood for the rest of my life and will never again be that discerning teenager that I once was. Oh yeah, and I never did get drafted!

Semper Fi! (Semper Fideles, the Marine Corps motto, means Always Faithful)



Read other letters:

A001   A002  A003   A004   A005   A006   A007   A008   A009   A010





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