After dropping out of college in the fall of 1962 with less than a year to graduate, I forfeited my college deferment and became eligible for the draft. To be more specific, the military draft. With that in mind and with the realization that I would be inducted, I joined my local National Guard unit.
In those days, men ages 18 to 25 had to register for the draft, with an obligation to serve two years of active duty. In fact, any male who is 57 years or older is sure to remember the high probability of being inducted into the armed services.
From 1940 to 1973, the Selective Service System – more commonly known as the Draft Board – was given the responsibility of selecting millions of male civilians to serve in the military, whether it was wartime or peacetime. Since that time, the Department of Defense, through aggressive marketing, cash bonuses, college scholarships and intense recruiting practices, has established an all-volunteer army.
To be quite honest, I felt two years was too long a time to wear G.I. (government issue). So I drove to the Masten Street Armory, took a battery of tests, passed the physical and shortly afterward received my orders to report to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training in February 1963.
After six months of active duty, I returned to Buffalo to serve five and a half years of Reserve duty, interrupted by a yearly two-week summer camp at what was then called Camp Drum.
It should be noted that in the early 1960s, young men were not beating down the doors to join the National Guard or Army Reserve.
This changed dramatically during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration. With the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the United States put “both feet” in on the side of the South Vietnamese government to halt the spread of communism in Southeastern Asia.
All Guard units were frozen. No more recruits were accepted. They were at capacity. Those who couldn’t get in the Guard or Reserve units were most likely drafted, and thousands were sent to Vietnam. Tragically, many never returned home.
I remember all too well during the period I served that it was not uncommon for soldiers of the National Guard and Army Reserve to be labeled “The Nasty Guard,” “Weekend Warriors” or “Glorified Boy Scouts.”
Now, more than a generation later, more than 43 percent of our troops who served and are now serving come from the ranks of the National Guard and Army Reserve units. Today, National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers, serving both here and abroad, are respected and admired as heroes.
My generation also proudly served. Unfortunately, we did not receive the accolades, praise and tribute that the citizen soldiers of the National Guard and Army Reserve of today receive – and so rightfully deserve.
To many people we were simply “draft dodgers.” We would also like to be known as veterans. Although we may not have been in harm’s way, we, too, answered the call.