Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Vietnam Experiences: A New York Draftee and a Northampton Draft Counselor

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Vietnam Experiences: A New York Draftee and a Northampton Draft Counselor

Article excerpt

EDITOR S CHOICE

Editor's Introduction: Our Editor's Choice selection for this issue is excerpted from the book, Called to Serve: Stories of Men and Women Confronted by the Vietnam War Draft, by Tom Weiner (Amherst, MA: Levellers Press, 2011). Weiner is currently a sixth-grade teacher at the Smith College Campus School in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he has worked for thirty-seven years. Many of the thirty men and women whose oral interviews compuse the body of his book are from Massachusetts} Called to Serve is unique in that Weiner interviews those from many sides of the war. The book offers chapters on those who "served, left, refused, chose conscientious objection, and found ways to beat the draft," as well as interviews with women who "loved, supported and counseled. " Weiner explains in his introduction:

What this book does, which has not been attempted either in the immediate aftermath of the war or since, is bring to bear the wide range of possible outcomes of facing the draft and, in the case of the women interviewed, the war itself, into one volume. Given the full range of experiences captured here, the reader is able to recapture the fullness of the war's effects on those who did and did not serve.

Most of the Vietnam conflict (it was never officially declared a war) was fought under the aegis of the Universal Military Training and Service Act of 1951, which had been passed during the Korean War. The 1951 act lowered the draft age from 19 to I8V2, increased active-duty service time from 21 to 24 months, and set the statutory term of military service at a minimum of eight years. All males were to register upon turning eighteen.

However, the act also established many types of deferments and exemptions. For example, students attending a college, trainingprogram, or graduate school full-time could receive an exemption, which was extended as long as they were students7 There were also occupational deferments for those who worked in an industry that the Pentagon deemed essential to national security, as well as various forms of hardship deferments. In 1963 President Kennedy signed an executive order that granted an exemption for married men. Two years later, President Johnson rescinded the exemption for married men without children. (Men married before the order went into effect, however, remained exempt./

Despite these many exemptions, historian George Q. Flynn writes: "To Johnson, the [Selective Service] pool must have appeared a cornucopia. In 1964 some 16,850,000 young men were in the eligible age cohort of I8V2 to 26." However, of these, two-thirds (62%) were in deferment or other ineligible categories: for example, 2.3 million were veterans; 4.9 million held educational, job, or other deferments; and 4.1 million were physically or mentally disqualifiedfor duty}

As the fighting expanded, so too did the draft. As Weiner notes, "draft calls soared from 100,000 in 1964 to 400,000 in 1966, enabling U.S. forces in Vietnam to climb from 23,000 'military advisors' in 1964 to 543,000 troops by 1968.,K> During the entire Vietnam conflict, however, only 25% of the six million men who served were draftees. Yet this percentage can be misleading. Drafiees were overrepresented in the army's fighting forces and thus had the highest casualty rates. In 1967an estimated 48% of army troops in Vietnam were drafiees. In 1965, 28% of army battle deaths were draftees; this figure increased to 57% in 19677 In 1968, drafiees accountedfor an astonishing 88% of the army's infantry riflemen.7

The drafi directly affected the lives of every young man in the United States. Before a national drafi lottery was implemented in 1969, local drafi boards were assigned quotas based on the population of registrants in their area. Local boards then selected the eligible men (aged 18 H2 through 25 years old) in response to an increasing number of drafi "calls," with the oldest to be selected first. This system resulted in uncertainty for potential drafiees during the entire time they were within the drafteligible age group. …

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