Dick was one of the many college students drafted into Vietnam. They were years older than the typical draftee, and educated to resist the traditional ways of turning boys into men. Thus on every front they clashed with what was still the Old Army. Yet once in Vietnam, beneath their cynicism, resentment and contempt for the military, they did their jobs with dedication and often heroism.
Of the 2.6 million who served in Vietnam, 648,500 were drafted. Many thousands more “volunteered” in order to select a specialty or delay induction by a few months. In the years after Vietnam senior officers who witnessed the transition to the all-volunteer Army say that draftees brought a diversity of skills and creativity that they miss in today’s Army.
My father was a veteran of WWII and his father was a veteran of WWI. When I was in high school we talked a lot around the dinner table about the Vietnam war, whether it was worthwhile or not. In our discussions I was not buying the domino theory.
I went to Ohio University in Athens and when the time got closer to when I was going to get drafted I started looking at my options. Not showing up for the draft and going to jail was not an option for me. I tried to get into the reserves, but you had to know somebody. You had to be sort of privileged, so that was not an option for me either. I had an aunt who lived in New Hampshire who wanted me to go to Canada; she had a place there I could go to. I considered it, but I did not like the idea of not being able to come back to the United States and visit my family.
January of 1968, my senior year in college, the draft board classified me 1-A (available for military service). Then I got a notice to take my written test. My draft board was in Pittsburgh and I was in Ohio, so they had to arrange for me to take the test in Ohio, which I did. I don’t think you had to score very high on it because I met people in the service who were probably intellectually disabled. A guy I bunked with in basic was from Harlem and he just had a terrible time and his hygiene was awful. I kept telling him, Why don’t you go AWOL?, and he finally did. Also, a guy I shared a hooch with when I first got to LZ Sherry I thought was intellectually disabled. He really liked the ladies. He had a collection of women’s panties in our hooch. It was just a rumor, but when he tried to re-up they would not take him.
After I took my written test, I got a letter to take my physical, which I was able to postpone until I could graduate. I got my degree in business but I couldn’t get a job because I was 1-A, nobody wanted to hire me knowing that I would be drafted. I got a job working part time at a department store. Then I took my physical, which I though I had a chance of not passing because I was born with a lazy eye. My left eye is only about 20/400 and cannot be corrected any better than that. I guess they figured you only needed one eye to shoot.
I got my draft notice in September telling me to report to Pittsburgh. A friend of mine from high school and college was supposed to go the same day I was, but he didn’t show up and went to prison instead. He turned out Okay. At one point he was a writer for the Boston Globe.
There were just twelve of us drafted in Pittsburgh that day. I always thought the Marines were all volunteer, but half the people that showed up that day went to the Marines. They had us count off 1 – 2 – 1 – 2, and the 1s went to the Army and the 2s went to the Marines. I was a 1; I caught a break. I truly think the reason I showed up in Pittsburgh that day came down to duty, not only to country but duty to my family.
I did basic training at Fort Jackson just outside of Columbia, South Carolina. The physical training part of basic training was always easy for me. I did not struggle with any of that. In fact, despite my lazy eye and the fact I had never handled a weapon before, I had the highest score in my company for rifle marksmanship.
It was the ridiculous stuff I couldn’t take. They had what they called zero week before training started when they gathered the recruits that would make up the company. I was walking down the street not paying any attention and failed to salute the company commander. They made me climb up a tree and say, “Tweet, tweet, I am a shit bird” for an hour. I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was pissed as hell. Looking back on it they needed to get my attention because I wasn’t buying all the stuff they were feeding us.
Our drill sergeant was just an ignorant Redneck as far as I was concerned and I had no respect for him at all. For the first couple of weeks when we ate our meals, we had to sit our asses on the front two inches of the chair, hold our tray in one hand, and eat with the other hand. You couldn’t cut your food. Finally the mess sergeant complained about it because we were not eating.
Every evening after supper for a couple of weeks, our company commander took all the college graduates outside his quarters and put us into the front leaning rest position (the up position of a push up). Then he’d walk back and forth telling us about going to Officer Candidate School. I wasn’t buying it. It was like, I want to be like you? Really?
In AIT artillery training at Ft. Sill we had quite a few college graduates, and a reserve unit from Missoula, Montana. Most of them had attitudes like mine. We never marched in military style, we always just walked along. Because of our general poor attitude we never had an overnight pass the whole time I was there. I didn’t mind, as I thought Lawton, Oklahoma was the arm pit of the world anyway.
Through Basic and AIT training I really struggled with respecting my commanding officers. The Army teaches you that you’re supposed to respect the rank, but the way I was brought up you respect the person and how they conduct themselves. Some of the old time sergeants I could respect, but it was the young officers and drill sergeants I had a problem with who couldn’t speak proper English. So call me an intellectual snob. My outlook did not get any better in Vietnam.
My orders for Vietnam came right after AIT, shipping me out through Oakland, California. I got I think 17 days leave prior to that. During that time I did a lot of soul searching because I was really thinking I was not coming back from this thing alive. I also partied a lot. I went out to SF a couple days early to party on Fisherman’s Warf. And I checked out Haight Ashbury. And I went to a Carol Doda review, a famous thing back then.
Carol Ann Doda was one of the first topless dancers of her era, gaining international attention when she danced topless at the Condor Club in 1964. She enhanced her fame when she went from a bust size 34 to a siliconed 44, thereafter known as “Doda’s Twin 44s” and “The New Twin Peaks of San Francisco.” There was hardly a college age male in the country who was not familiar with the name Carol Doda. She passed away in 2015 at the age of 77.