Recently I got a letter and a certificate thanking me for serving 20 years as a member of the Local Draft Board for the Selective Service System. I was amazed, as it seemed to me as if I had burned my draft card just last week. Exciting times come back in a flash when you’re old.
I’m going to back up more than 50 years so I can share with you some lessons I’ve learned; thankfully it wasn’t the hard way!
In 1967 I was young and cocky – ready to take on the world – thought I had all the answers and the right questions to go along with them. I started a new position as a professor of mathematics at a state university – someone really valuable for the country and economy. I could do anything (or so I thought) and sent my draft board back East a letter about my new job and address, adding, “You can take your illegal, immoral Vietnam War and shove it where the sun never shines. And by the way, reclassify me II-A – I’m strategic!” Or words to that effect.
As I said, I was young and thought I had all the answers. Years later I can see I was wrong in many ways and certainly North Vietnam didn’t have all the right answers either. Trouble is, people doing the fighting are always the ones to suffer; they and innocent civilians are doing the dying.
I was speedily reclassified I-A and lost appeals until a draft counselor advised me to be humble and apply for a hardship classification since my wife would soon give birth.
I was amazed when years later I got a letter asking if I wished to serve on the local draft board. When I stopped laughing, I called – this was too good just to write “No” or toss the letter. I’ll short the short version.
“Hi, you want me to serve on the draft board?”
“You know I burned my draft card back in the day?”
“You still want me?”
“Yes. Don’t worry, we like all kinds and we’ll train you.”
They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse –pay for miles driven and occasionally a small meal allowance.
For me, it was an education. I trained with people from all over the region. One of the main purposes of the local draft board is hearing requests for hardships and conscientious objector classifications. We were led through one case after another, learning how to search for the facts and sincerity of those appealing.
But beyond the appeals, I saw how all the people serving in this capacity as well as those working full time for the Selective Service System were concerned that the draft should be a fair and equitable process for all Americans.
Maybe I’ve come a long way and I may still be a peacenik, but I was sad when I was told that no one can serve more than 20 years.
Ken was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, and an IBMer until downsized in 2000. He taught yoga until COVID-19 decided otherwise. He continues writing, living with his wife and beagle in Shorewood, Wisconsin. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He’s a homebrewer and runs whitewater rivers. Ken is a writer and his literary works can be found at https://www.kmkbooks.com/. He welcomes feedback on his articles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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