A group of World War One veterans, all in their sixties, sat on folding metal chairs and stared at the tall stack of manila folders in front of them. Each file contained the registration papers and other particulars on every 18-to-35 male in the immediate area who had not yet volunteered or been drafted into the Armed Forces. Dressed alike in baggy blue slacks, a mothball-smelling cardigan, and dusty brown shoes, each man closely resembled Scrooge pouring over his accounting books from the opening scene of A Christmas Carol.
Willie, bald and the oldest-looking one in the lot, called the weekly meeting of local draft board number thirteen to order. “I’ve got another memo from Washington. McNamara needs more soldiers in Vietnam and our quota has doubled. When you go through your reviews today let’s make sure we don’t miss anybody. I also have passed out the new policy on marriage—it is no longer an official exemption, unless there is a child. For my money it doesn’t count if the woman is just pregnant.”
One draft board member spoke up. “But Willie, we can’t do more than we already have—everybody hates us.”
“Tough noodles,” said Willie, “It’s our job to provide the manpower for this war.”
Another member passed around the latest issue of Life magazine. “Look at this article. It says we are the most feared and unreasonable draft board in the entire country. One picture shows a tearful young woman having her husband ripped from her grasp and shoved on an Army bus. Another photo shows a group of mothers picketing in front of the courthouse. One of the women is holding a sign that says Draft the Draft Board.”
Willie sneered. “Shut up and quit whining. If these boys would volunteer like we did then the U.S. wouldn’t need a draft.”
“But, it’s not the same, Willie. We were attacked and had to defend our freedom. I don’t know why we are in Vietnam or what we are fighting for—even the South Vietnamese don’t want us there.”
“If you keep bitching, we won’t get anything done. Now get back to work.” Willie turned to the task at hand. Flipping through the next folder in his stack, he began mumbling. “What a slacker. Just because daddy paid for his college education, he thinks he can avoid dying for his country. We’ll see about that.” A large inkpad and three stamps sat in front of Willie: 1A, eligible for the draft; 3A, College Deferment; and 4F, not eligible—normally used for medical conditions, like flat feet.
4H, which according to the Woody Allen meant in times of war, I’m a hostage, did not really exist.
The small, dimly-lit room remained silent most of the time, as the board reviewed each man’s status. The silence would be interrupted from time to time, whenever a member would slam down his stamp after he finished a case, causing an odd, rhythmic thumping noise, like a factory assembly line stamping out sheet metal parts for a new car. But if all five happened to slam down their stamps at the same time, it gave off a loud boom, and the whole table would shake.
Willie, when he wasn’t hacking from thirty years of smoking, liked to read the name of the soon-to-be draftee out loud, right before he slammed down his 1A stamp. Then, if he got five 1As in a row, he would leap to his feet, do an enthusiastic victory dance, and cackled like a crazed chicken. Working on the next series of five draftees, he read, Barry James, 1A (slam); Sam Johnson, 1A (slam); Eli Jones, 1…Willie stopped in mid-slam. He raised the paper a little closer so he could read the fine print—Completed two years at Ohio State University, B average, registered full-time—status: educational deferment.
Willie’s lower lip protruded in a pout. He refused to let anyone slip through his fingers. Willie verified the school enrollment notification had arrived on time, but he could fix that, as he had so many times in the past. Furtively glancing around, he pulled a black pen out of his briefcase, and carefully filled in the three, until to the untrained eye it looked exactly like an eight.
The other draft board members stared in his direction, when Willie jumped up and shouted out with even more satisfaction than usual. “Eureka—I’ve got him! This letter arrived two days late.” He punctuated his announcement by spitting a wad of phlegm on the cement floor that he had coughed up in his excitement.
Willie’s hand trembled at the realization of the power he held over these young lives. Grasping his favorite stamp, with his yellow-stained fingers, he smeared on a little extra ink, and raised the large wooden weapon a tad higher than usual. His hand, tightly wrapped around the handle, hesitated at the top of the arc, relishing this moment of triumph, and then plunged it downward, picking up speed, racing toward the paper with purpose. With a mighty slam, the stamp hit its mark and Willie noted with some pride that he had shook the table solo, as he announced, “Eli J. Jones, 1A!”
“DRAFTED” by Rich Allan http://www.amazon.com/Drafted-ebook/dp/B004LGTRSK/ref=tmm_kin_title_0