The prospect of getting drafted and being sent to Vietnam hung over the mid sixties like a smog that wouldn’t dissipate. The National Guard and Reserve enlistments were at an all time high. There were waiting lists to gain entry. College enrollment by 1966 was a must for any 18 year old male who wanted nothing to do with the military. As long as full time status was achieved on campus, a 1-S deferment was assigned to the student. This allowed all young men of draft age to avoid military service until graduating from College. By prolonging enlistment it was hoped that the mess in Vietnam would be over. Surprise, it lasted for ten years and the guys that completed their studies and then were drafted, most often, were given leadership positions. The irony in this maneuver was that they became more desirable targets for the enemy once in combat.
Another way to obtain a permanent deferment was to become a Father. It had long been tradition for high school sweethearts to get married in the summer after high school graduation. These were still the days when women stayed home to raise children and guys went to work. There were a lot of manufacturing jobs in our town to be had. Most were associated with General Motors in some way. A lot of guys had jobs waiting for them the day they graduated. Their fathers were able to make that happen due to their employment in those factories. A good job with benefits, a new wife and the prospect of going to Vietnam got a lot of families off to an early start.
Another alternative deferment was known universally by its classification, 4-F. This little achievement was permanent and generally awarded due to a physical abnormality. Having fallen arches was one of the most common. It became known as “flat feet”. There many ways that a heretofore non disclosed aliment became an asset to these eighteen year old males. Deformed toes, being too short, poor eyesight, one leg longer than the other and being too skinny are to name a few. These are all legitimate genetic hindrances that often qualified for 4-F status. As the war continued to drag on, more creative ways to avoid service began to crop up. The one that seemed to make the most sense to the perpetrator, but the least sense to everyone else, was to chop off one’s trigger finger. Many people had been known to lead normal productive lives with nine and one half fingers. While the logic of the action had a certain sense to it, it more often than not, called the sanity of the individual into question. Either way, it usually accomplished its intention of obtaining a permanent deferment.
In my case, going for the student deferment seemed to make the most sense. It was 1967 and if I was lucky it would be 1972 before it became a priority for me. So off to college I went, high school sweetheart in tow. We both enrolled on the same campus, she on a scholarship and me working , to pay my way. We both lived at home and settled into a head in the sand type of existence whenever Vietnam was mentioned. We married during the following winter and I dropped out for Spring Quarter to work full time. With a baby on the way my 1-S deferment seemed of little consequence. When the baby I arrived I would slip into a permanent deferment as a Father. My plans were working out just fine.
It was 1968 and the “North Vietnamese Tet Offensive” had just occurred in February of that year. This military attack had caught the US military temporarily off guard. The resulting decision was to ratchet up enlistments for the nineteen year males in the United States. Things were going to be OK for me because we now had a beautiful baby girl to lavish our attention upon. In fact, I introduced her to friends as my little deferment so often, they thought that was her name. Unbeknownst to us the deferment laws were being rewritten to disallow a second deferment without a legal petition to the draft board. Oblivious to this nugget of knowledge, I continued with plans for my wife to stay in school and I continued to work full time.
It was a beautiful April day when a phone call came for me at work. It was my wife informing me that in the morning mail I had received a letter from the US Government. It was my draft notice and I was to report for induction in 90 days. There was to be no more evading this elephant in the room. The Vietnam War had just knocked on my door. The rest of that year is a blur concluding with my arrival in Bien Hoa, Vietnam on December 9th, 1969. I was a newly minted Private First Class in the United States Army. This began a new chapter in my life’s saga. It was also the beginning of an experience that changed me forever. For the rest of my life, my experience in Viet Nam was never more than a few seconds away in my thoughts. For better or worse, I lived through it.
As I look back almost fifty years, I try to remember mostly the good things about living in the sixties. And when people mention the Summer of 1968 and all the turmoil of that summer, I tell them about that beautiful baby girl that was ” My little Deferment”.
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