In 1967, Arlo Guthrie released “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” This little hiccup in music history eventually led to 20 of the funniest minutes at Woodstock and, a couple years after that, to a reasonably amusing movie. In the song, Guthrie talks of many things: Thanksgiving and littering and 8x10 glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back, but mostly he talked about his physical exam for the draft. I remember thinking his experience was a lot like mine.
In October 1964, I turned 18. Several weeks before my birthday, I received a large envelope in the mail from the Selective Service with a 9- or 10-page form to fill out and return before said birthday. I really don’t remember much about the form except for thinking, “I haven’t lived long enough for this many questions.” That is the gist of my reaction, which was a very complex mixture of thoughts, emotions and panic that was edited down to something, at the time, that was probably more like, “Whoa!”
After answering questions about every aspect of my life, up to and almost including dreams I may or may not have occasionally had about a certain nurse who worked the 4-to-midnight shift, I got to the section concerning my health and any physical conditions that might make me unfit for fulfilling my duty.
I dutifully checked the box next to “hemophilia” and supplied the names, addresses and phone numbers of my doctors and the hospitals I had been in, along with release forms for records. I also did my best to summarize, in the space provided and on plain, letter-sized sheets of white paper attached to the back of the form in compliance with the instructions, the nearly 200 hospitalizations I’d had and the uncounted hemorrhages that had not been deemed severe enough to warrant treatment.
Unfit for Service?
The next day I mailed the completed form, fully confident I would be getting an automatic 4-F (meaning “unfit for service”) and got back to the really important business of trying to get a date with a certain redhead. My confidence (about getting the 4-F, not the redhead) was bolstered somewhat by the experience of a cousin. He was also a severe hemophiliac but didn’t mention the fact when he showed up at the enlistment office. On the third day of boot camp he went into the hospital with some spectacular hemorrhages, and when he got out, he was also out of the Army.
The really ironic thing, to me at least, was that I had actually talked to the Coast Guard and Navy to see if I could enlist in a non-running, jumping, fighting capacity, and had been turned down. The way I saw it, even on an aircraft carrier someone has to type or decorate cakes. The Coast Guard and Navy, however, have very firm beliefs that even the cake decorators have to be able to run, jump and fight when need be. As soon as the word “hemophilia” found its way into the discussion, they immediately showed me the door: how it was perfectly designed to allow me to leave and made sure I made it through without bumping into anything.
A few days after my 18th birthday, a somewhat smaller envelope arrived from the Selective Service, and I discovered that contrary to my expectations, my country felt I was qualified for the manly classification of 1-A. 1-A meant that, in their humble opinion, I was just the kind of young buck they were looking for. At that time, the odds were highly in favor of me being in uniform on my 19th birthday.
The documents that accompanied the card were written in a military dialect known as “officialese” and, for the most part, did not make much sense. But among the admonitions, orders and a couple of outright threats, we found a paragraph that said I had 10 days from the date of the letter to appeal the classification. This appeal had to be requested in person at the local Draft Board office during normal business hours. Because the US Postal Service had operated with unusual efficiency, that meant I still had three days.
Appealing to the Draft Board
The next morning, Friday, I skipped school for the first time in my life. I borrowed the family car and drove 20 miles to the next town, which was the county seat and had the required office. I expected the Draft Board, being a federal agency, to be near the little cluster of old houses and former storefronts that made up our government district. But I was wrong. It was nowhere near the county courthouse or sheriff’s office or any of the other buildings with county and state offices. I finally found it in a storefront two doors down from JC Penney. The door was locked. A notice next to the door said the office’s normal hours of operation were:
Tuesday and Thursday Only
7:00 am to 11:30 am
I remember thinking these were definitely not normal business hours.
Read more Guy Boss at the Missing Factor.