Releasing my book a chapter at a time on my blog…here’s chapter two:
Draft board number thirteen consisted of five World War I veterans, each man sixty-five years of age or older. They sat on folding metal chairs around a large rectangular table staring at the task in front of them; to review a large stack of blue folders containing the particulars on every 18-to-35-year-old male registered in their assigned geographic area who had not yet been drafted or volunteered. The board members, dressed alike in baggy blue slacks, mothball-smelling cardigans, and dusty brown shoes each resembling a slightly different version of Scrooge from A Christmas Carol, scowled as they prepared to pour over the information and determine each potential draftee’s fate.
Willie, chairman of the board, whose crusty face, sunken eyes, and bald pate resembled a skull on a pirate’s flag, called the weekly meeting to order. “I’ve got another memo from Washington. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara needs more soldiers in Vietnam and our quota has doubled. As you go through your reviews today, make sure we don’t miss anybody. I have also passed out the new policy on marriage—it is no longer an exemption unless there is a child. For my money, it doesn’t count if the woman is only pregnant.”
One concerned draft board member spoke up. “But Willie, we can’t do more than we already have—everybody around here hates us.”
“Humbug,” 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 Local Draft Board Thirteen, in Springfield, Ohio, is the most feared and unreasonable draft board in the 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 reads Draft the Draft Board.”
Willie sneered. “Shut up and quit whining. If these boys would volunteer like we did in WWII, this country wouldn’t need a draft.”
“But, it’s not the same, Willie. We were attacked at Pearl Harbor 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 to work.”
The minor revolution squelched, Willie turned back to the task at hand. Flipping through the next folder in his stack, he began mumbling to himself. 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, usually for a medical exception.
The small, dimly-lit room remained quiet most of the time, as the board members performed their reviews. 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 caused a minor 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 cackle 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 quarterly school enrollment notification had arrived on time, but he knew how to 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 five days late.” He punctuated his announcement by spitting a wad of phlegm onto 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. With his hand tightly wrapped around the handle, he hesitated at the top of the arc, relishing this moment of triumph and then with all his strength plunged it downward, picking up speed, as the stamp, dripping red, raced toward the paper with a purpose. With a mighty slam, the raised rubber symbol hit its mark and Willie noted with some pride that he had shaken the table solo, as he announced, “Eli J. Jones, 1A!”