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Confessions of a Draft Dodger
It was a crazy time to be quitting college. I mean, there was a freakin' war on. Who but a complete fool would give up a student deferment?
This was back before the lottery, when nobody had the security of a high draft number to fall back on. The rules were simple: if you went to school, you had a student deferment. If you quit, you got drafted. If you got drafted, you went to 'Nam. And if you went to 'Nam, you came back in pieces, if at all.
So this was a crazy time to quit. I mean, I wasn't even scheduled to graduate 'til 1968, and everybody knew the war would be over long before then. All I had to do was bide my time.
But the times they were a-changin'. After marching on Washington with Martin Luther King, then following him from Selma to Montgomery, I decided that civil rights were more important to me than student rites. So of course I missed a lot of classes, carried a lot of banners, dodged a lot of night sticks, sucked a bit of tear gas, found myself on academic probation, and finally lost my student deferment. Hell, might as well quit.
What's a guy to do when he's 1A and the war's heating up? Well, there were about four ways to dodge the draft back then. You could go to Canada, go to jail, shoot yourself in the foot -- or enlist.
I'll show those bastards! They're not taking me against my will! I volunteer!
Fortunately, I had a Skill (inasmuch as four years of ham radio experience, one year of Electrical Engineering courses, and an FCC commercial radiotelephone license constitute a Skill.) In the Air Force (they offered me a better deal than the Navy, I'm too wimpy to be a Marine, and the Army was never an option) if you have a Skill they send you to school. I milked that for about a year and a half. Surely, the war would be over by then, wouldn't it?
After spending all that money training me, Uncle wasn't quite ready to get me shot up. He assigned me to Stateside duties for another year, while giving me even more training to prepare me for clandestine missions. Hell, I should have stayed in college.
So with all that preparation, it wasn't until late 1967 that Corey and I were due to ship out across the pond.
Corey and I had enlisted together, gone through boot camp together, done our Stateside tour together, received the same spook training, and had the same date of rank. As they used to say in the vacuum tube days, we were pin-for-pin replacements for one another. Only his last name came before mine in the alphabet, so his orders were always cut first. When his envelope came in, the form said Osan Air Force Base, Republic of Korea.
These were bad times in the ROK. The war that cooled down fourteen years earlier had never officially ended, and every few weeks the North invaded the South, or vice-versa. The casualties were not much to count, especially next to Vietnam, but every now and then they made the news.
They did in October of 1967. A couple of American troops had been killed in a border skirmish, the news splashed all over the Stars and Stripes. And Corey always read the newspaper.
"Tell you what," I suggested to Corey. "I know you're a gambling man. Now Uncle needs a 30750 in Korea, and we're pin-for-pin replacements. How 'bout if I get the First Sergeant to pull a switch? I'll take Osan. You take my orders; they should be in any day now. You might pull the 'Nam, or you might get lucky and end up in Europe. But at least you'll be far from Korea."
Corey bought it, and that's how I ended up avoiding Vietnam. Sure, I pulled a TDY (temporary duty assignment) to points South from time to time, but for well over a year I was safe and cozy in a peace zone. When my own orders came through a week later, they read: "Osan AFB, Republic of Korea." I just couldn't get away from Corey. Or escape my own fate.
Korea had its own little war while we were stationed there, and I finally got a chance to put all that spook training to work.
That particular incident has been memorialized in song.
But that's another story, Scouts, for another campfire.
It was still a crazy time to be quitting college.
Flying a desk for Uncle Sam (Korea, circa 1967)
Copyright © H. Paul Shuch, Ph.D.; Maintained by Microcomm
this page last updated 14 June 2007