I tell ya, it’s hard writing a family history blog when your family doesn’t remember its own history.
Though I suppose it’s a good thing that my dad does not remember an event other American men can recall like it was yesterday:
Draft boards were local organizations responsible for registering, evaluating, selecting or rejecting prospective candidates for military service.
The power to grant a deferment, or to classify a young man 1-A (immediately available for combat), lay in their hands. And all those mythical Sixties scenes people my age have only heard about — like people eating nothing but eggs for two weeks so high cholesterol would keep them out of the service — were done in hopes of swaying the local draft board.
It has been my generational good fortune never to go before a draft board, and I hope my sons will have similar luck. (I suspect there will have to be armed enemy soldiers in the streets of Philadelphia before Uncle Sam turns to my sons for help.)
I hit up my dad for his memories of his visit to the draft board, and received the following:
“I remember nothing about seeing the draft board. … I doubt seriously if there was a physical THERE; I might have had to bring in some form from my doctor. I think the operative procedure was that when you were 18 you had to REGISTER for the draft, which was probably more like registering your car than anything else. I suspect I might have had to bring a birth certificate to prove my birth date, although at 18 maybe they would accept my driver’s license.
“The process of getting those different classifications because you were infirmed or in college or had kids was – I believe – separate and took place mostly by mail. I don’t remember any live inquisitions in any point of my (non)military career. And I’m sure in 1961 I wasn’t very worried because (a) I was going to college, which exempted me for the next 4 years and (b) there was no war going on (that anyone had noticed).”
While the Vietnam War had not yet heated up in 1961, local draft boards could still throw a monkey wrench into people’s lives when they got the notion.
In one well-publicized case, Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Johnny Podres was abruptly reclassified 1-A after winning Game 7 of the 1955 World Series. Podres missed the entire 1956 season while sportswriters and fans debated whether he had been unfairly singled out, or whether it was fair to assume that any man capable of throwing a complete-game shutout in the World Series was able-bodied enough to serve.
No such issues came up in my dad’s meeting with the Springdale, Conn., draft board. The skinny electrical-engineer-to-be, all of 18 years and a month old, was waved along to college. After college, a professional deferment related to his job at Eastman Kodak and the birth of my older brother carried him through the remainder of the war.
Much changed between his generation and mine. When I turned 18 and had to register for Selective Service, I’m pretty sure I did that by mail; I don’t remember any face-to-face contact.
Hopefully, my sons get to do the same.
If the Blumenau family’s total lack of history or drama in this post leaves you frustrated, check out this site. It collects the stories and memories of men eligible for the draft lotteries of 1969 through 1971.
They talk about where they were at the time the numbers were drawn (a surprising number were drinking heavily in fraternity houses) and how they responded to their place in the draft order.
Great oral-history recollections of what one man describes as “a scary time to be young.”