Was it really that long ago?


What a horrible time. We’d been pulled into a war where we had no business. Until then, our college boys — yes, they were boys — had a 2-S (student) deferment that meant they couldn’t be drafted as long as they were full-time students. 

Then Congress, in it’s infinite wisdom, decided it was a good idea to send our troops into Vietnam, where we weren’t wanted, needed, or appreciated. We were gonna go out and save the world from Commies. Our military members never knew whether the Vietnamese citizen or soldier who stood beside him was a compatriot or was waiting for the right moment to slit his throat.  Because there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese.

It wasn’t long until we started running out of troops. So a draft lottery took place. 

Not a soul my age can’t tell you exactly where they were the day of the Vietnam Draft Lottery.  Lottery. Isn’t that where you’re supposed to win something? But on December 1, 1969, there wouldn’t be many winners.

I was with my boyfriend, Joey, in our apartment in Columbus, Ohio. Just a few blocks from the Ohio State campus. We’d decided to spend the day alone instead of with our friends at Charlie Brown’s, the bar where both of us worked part time. We sat silently as Bingo balls numbered with dates on them….January 1 through December 31…were pulled one by one out of that obnoxious, metal, spinning barrel.

It began.

#1 – September 14.

I realized we were both holding our breath.

 #99 – November 29. My brother. I called him. He went to the National Guard the next morning to sign up. Not because he wanted to see combat, because he didn’t. National Guard wouldn’t  be used until there weren’t enough draftees to take care of business. He got lucky. His unit was never called into service.. He ended up going to work for them full-time and retired after 20 years in the WV National Guard payroll office.

My cousin, Hank Fidler’s birthday was called. Too low. 

Date after date was called. We were hyper-aware when a friend’s birth date and number were announced, and called people as we heard them. But the date we weren’t hearing was May 5. Had we missed it during one of our phone calls? Would we have to wait until the next morning’s paper to discover Joey’s fate. We called Charlie Brown’s, but no one had heard his number. Everyone was too busy listening for his own birth date and corresponding number to think about anyone else’s. Joey’s mother wasn’t watching the draft. Neither was mine. No one knew. Meanwhile, we might be have missed hearing his number by making more phone calls. My birth date was called — July 19 — 227.

Within moments that seemed like hours, #353 – June 29. My dad. Who had been dead for years. I started crying. He always felt guilty because he was blind in one eye — something few who knew him would have guessed — and was not able to fight in WWII. 

And then…..#364 – May 5. Joey’s birthday.  Old women and little kids would be drafted before Joey. We hugged each other and cried. Called his mother, dad, brother, sister. Called my mom. Called my brother. And then, we headed straight to Charlie Brown’s and bought drinks for everyone we knew.

Our friends started receiving letters with their report dates. Most finished out the fall semester just in time to report for duty. They were given six weeks basic training — really basic training — and put on a slow boat to Vietnam. 

Of course, there were exemptions. Flunked physical. Both 4-A and 4-G were for ‘sole surviving son.’ Men with children could claim 3-A. Agricultural workers, med students, those who worked for defense contractors were deferred. Unfortunately, most people didn’t know about these exemptions and weren’t savy enough to look for them. I mean, who would have thought that a kid from a farm would be able to get out of serving? And as anticipated (see GW Bush), influential parents pulled strings to keep their entitled kids out of the military. 

Though there was a deferment for ‘conscientious objectors,’ many left the country. A life-long friend of mine married his girlfriend and hurried across the Canadian border. They’re still there.

Others staged protests…burned draft cards…burned bras (never got that one, except for the comfort of not wearing a bra). Radical groups occupied campus administration buildings, chained and locked themselves to posts outside federal buildings. The most severe resorted to violence. It was crazy. 

Our generation grew up pretty quickly. Columbus’ Mayor Sensenbrenner called us “the Boys and Girls at Ohio State.” Legally, we weren’t adults until we turned 21. Couldn’t vote. Had no say in our own lives. And now, we were mad. 

And then, it was May 4, 1970. National Guardsmen, college kids themselves, were called to Kent State University in Ohio to “control” a campus protest. There were conflicting orders. The guardsmen took a kneeling stance with their guns…then standing… then someone shot. Then others shot. In total, 4 were killed; 9 were wounded.

Allison Krause and Jeffrey Miller were participating in the protest, which was peaceful.

Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder were simply walking across the parade ground from one class to another. Schroeder was a member of the University’s ROTC Battalion. 

All were just college kids. Doing what college kids do. And yet, they were dead.

And the rest of our lives were changed.

Neil Young of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young saw the pictures of Kent State in Life Magazine. He sat down that night and wrote OHIO. They recorded it live the next day.

“Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, we’re finally on our own. This summer I hear the drumming. Four dead in Ohio.”

We thought we’d learned a valuable lesson with Vietnam, but then 9/11 shook our world. We went into Afghanistan, and that was a righteous move. However, as with Vietnam, there was no exit strategy. Condi Rice announced tht Iraq was in no way a threat, but only a few months later, Bush sent our troops into Iraq. For no other reason than to avenge his father’s failure to get Sadam Hussain and to keep his oil-company friends in business. And here we are. Thousands of our kids dead. 

My heart breaks for the families of the four kids who were killed that day. And my heart is grateful that none of my “kids” who went to Putnam City High School and/or University of Central Oklahoma have been injured. Neither have my college grads at four universities who joined after graduation. Some have been sent only one time. Others went back for second and third tours. Two are in Afghanistan now.

 But my prayer of all prayers is that our elected officials in Washington will fall out of love with war. And that the people who understand politics won’t ignore the primary elections and will get out to vote. Because those who walk into the booth and simply flip the switch for  “straight ticket” will be there.

Take care of yourselves. Be good to those who love you. And be true to what you know is right.

See you soon.