My decision to enter the military created a personal challenge. I had protested the Vietnam War in high school and college, and favored non-violent approaches to resolving conflict. At the same time, Father had served in the Allied occupation of Japan after World War II. While he did not talk much about his military service, it was an important part of how his life evolved after graduating from Leon High School in Tallahassee, Florida.
Mother took me to register for the draft when I became eligible at age 18. I still have my Selective Service card. People in my birth year were eligible for the draft lottery on July 1, 1970 for calendar year 1971. I took a student deferment to attend the University of Iowa in fall 1970. Because of it, my number would be drawn in 1973 for the following year, after graduation. Rather than take a chance in the 1973 lottery, when the Selective Service drew 125, I canceled my deferment, and accepted eligibility, because my draft number was 128. One could be eligible for the draft lottery only once, so I was off the hook on conscription.
After graduating from university in May 1974, I stayed in Iowa City contemplating next steps. When Richard Nixon resigned the presidency on Aug. 8, 1974, a weight was lifted from me and almost everyone I knew. This freed me to take a long tour of Europe, a modern-day equivalent of the 17th and 18th Century Grand Tours. I returned to Davenport as winter set in. I worked a couple of jobs in 1975, yet living in my home town wasn’t for me. I remained restless about what would be next.
When the Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975, I revisited joining the military. Without the danger of the Vietnam War, my father’s service came to mind again. I discovered a program to enlist for Officer Candidate School to become a commissioned officer. I took all the tests, went through various hearings, and despite frowns from the panel at my shoulder-length hair, was accepted. I enlisted in the program and left for Fort Jackson, S.C. in January 1976, the Bicentennial Year.
Why did I enlist? I felt the U.S. Army at the end of the Vietnam War was a despicable mess. The March 16, 1968 My Lai massacre of more than 500 people, including young girls and women who were raped and mutilated before being killed, was particularly on my mind. I believed the only way to address problems like My Lai was for people like me, who valued non-violent means of conflict resolution and common decency, to enter the military and do a better job of leading it. Father’s military service played a role in my decision, as did the opportunity of youth and being single. I have no regrets in following my father’s footsteps and joining the Army.
DAVENPORT, Ia. (Dec. 28, 1975) During the last three days I have heard two significant quotes and several metaphors well worth remembering here.
Christmas Day as I escorted my Grandmother down the front stairs (of the American Foursquare) and as the sun was sinking in the west, she said, “The day we have prepared for so long is gone.”
Also Joe, on the eve of his 24th birthday said, “The ink has dried on the last year, and already it begins to fade.”
Both of these touch home for me at this time of my life.Journals, Dec. 28, 1975
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