DRAFT ONE

I am not entirely comfortable telling this story but it is very much part of my growing up on the West Side.  My dad died in August 1970 after several months of serious illness.  I pretty much went through this on my own.

After graduating Stuyvesant in June 1966, just shy of 17, I went on to my father’s alma mater, City College (CCNY).  As I turned 18 I registered for the draft as the law required.   It was mostly routine.

The previous year I shared my room with September, a sweet little cat.  Playful except for the day we were playing and she forgot to let go of my hands as I tossed her on the bed.  She left two scratches, which scarred, one below each thumb.  This is relevant because the clerk doing registration at the draft board typed “scars on both wrists” on my draft card.

I, like all of my friends, received a student deferment, “2S”, for my four year program.  I never thought, as my fourth year ended in 1970,  that I would be called to the infamous Whitehall Street building for a physical examination before induction; I was headed to a fifth year of college.  There were no 2S deferments renewals to be had.

Whitehall Street was not an imposing structure but was a scary place.  So many went in one door a civilian and out the other with orders to report for training.  I did not want that outcome.  During all the demonstrations and conversations I always envisioned the same personal outcome, a body bag.  I was sure I would die in Vietnam and I would not go for a cause like that war.  In fact, when I wrote my conscientious objector application I understood my personal beliefs came before my fears and that I could not kill another human being.

The walls at Whitehall had signs everywhere that had the same message, if you think that you have not gotten a fair shake, say something.

As I stepped through the physical exam process I clutched the letter from the CCNY psychologist which was supposed to help me be unacceptable for military service.  I was in good health and got to the psychiatric with flying colors.  When the doctor asked questions after reading the letter I answered them fully and completely and honestly.  I passed there too.

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The last step in the process was to sign a document that stated I had not supported a list of political groups, which I had.  I refused.  The burly sergeant tried to bully me into signing but I kept insisting that i couldn’t.  He referred me to the fingerprint lady in the next room.

The nice older lady carried on conversation while completing paperwork and taking my prints.  I complained about the psychiatrist who didn’t listen and didn’t understand. As this went on, the commandant of Whitehall Street walked by the office and this kind woman called out “Sir” and when he entered her office said to him “this young man doesn’t think he has been treated fairly.”  

Sticking to the words on the signs, the commandant told me to report to his office where he listened to my complaint and told me that the best he could do was offer me another psychiatrist “report tomorrow morning at 0700.”

The next day brought a change in things.  I was monosyllabic and the psychiatrist deferred me for six months.  Yup, there’s more, but that will come in another post.

7 thoughts on “DRAFT ONE

  1. Your draft story gave me shivers, Ken. I can laugh now, while playing my “Alice’s Restaurant” LP. But really, what an episode! I have my own story, which I will post later in the year on KatzTales.com. Meanwhile, here’s a scene from “No Time for Sergeants” with Andy Griffith and Don Knotts that puts the draft physical in its place: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=no+time+for+sergeants&qft=+filterui%3amsite-youtube.com&view=detail&mid=E83439030139631FED22E83439030139631FED22&&FORM=VRDGAR

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    1. Jon, your continuing kind words and support are so wonderful. I write to have an impact on others and better understand who I have become and from whence I came. You help me see clearly that I repeatedly achieve the first. Thank you old friend.

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  2. Ken, I had a 2s, then a psychiatrist’s letter that did no good, then I married and JFK deferred married men, one week before I was scheduled for induction, but LBJ needed more bodies so married men without children were uoped, then my wife became pregnant (1966) and I was deferred. No bone spurs, but a lovely daughter who has brought us joy and two lovely grandkids. Phew!

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  3. Back in the Fall of 1967, I was dating a law student who was a recent Columbia grad who roomed with a couple of the Stuy guys you mentioned (then at Columbia) in a typical upper West Side family apartment (maid’s room and all) at 515 WEA. (Actually, a Stuyvesant H.S. Senior was occupying the maid’s room when I first started dating this roommate.) After graduating Columbia in the Spring of ’67, this then-boyfriend of mine spent the summer in Alabama, working for a civil rights attorney, then started at Fordham Law School in the Fall. Law school turned out to be not his “cup of tea” and he flunked out after the first semester, which subjected him to the draft (no lottery then, and that was the end of his 2S deferment.) He got the needed psychiatrist’s letter (we were all active in the anti-war movement – the residents of that apartment and the Hunter girls, from my class and the couple of classes above and below mine, who hung out there, some of us dating one or another of the roommates,) and showed up for his draft interview, probably at the very same building you mentioned. He found the experience to be extremely upsetting, and I remember him meeting me after school, in tears as he embraced me on the steps of the 68th Street entrance to HCHS. He was granted the deferment (4F, was it called?) and later studied social work (I think at Hunter College) and had a long academic career. He was a transplant from California, having graduated from Hollywood High before enrolling at Columbia. All the other roommates were Stuyvesant grads attending Columbia (plus the one Stuyvesant undergrad in the maid’s room, who started at MIT in the Fall of 1967; I forget who, if anyone, occupied the maid’s room after that.) Those were very troubled times, but exciting for politically active teens and young adults. Unbeknownst to me at the time, another Stuy undergrad (Class of ’66) – with whom I was acquainted from summer camp several years before – had occupied that same maid’s room the year before I first set foot in it. I did not learn this until ten or fifteen years ago. Another “small world” story.

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