Tuesday, December 6, 2011

february 1968: newark, new jersey

It's partly because it's a year of protest against an untrustworthy government, and it's mostly because I'm reading the book Hell No, We Won't Go: Vietnam Draft Resisters in Canada, that's causing that day to be on my mind.

It was an early morning during the winter of '68, the Selective Service Office, Bridgeton, N.J., the county seat.  I didn't have any legal choice about being there:  Show up for your military induction physical or risk arrest.  They loaded a few dozen of us guys onto busses for the three-hour ride to the federal building in downtown Newark, a trip of total dread for most of us potential draftees.  The choices were not good.  Either you are just about to get snatched from your life to go fight an obscene war in Vietnam or these Army doctors are going to find something so physically wrong with you that you are unfit for service.

The process was, as intended, degrading -- people yelling at you, treating you with scorn, giving you a preview of military life -- but I came through it, much to my distress, with flying colors.

On the bus trip home, I sat next to a Vineland guy who turned out to be one of the most interesting guys I had ever met.  He too had passed the physical and was ready to move on -- to Canada.  He knew all his reasons for being against the war and for emigrating, and he had his escape all planned out.  I knew a lot of guys were considering the Canada option, but he was the first one I knew who was actually going.  He gave me a lot to think about and consider, including the possibility of moving to Canada.  I came close to doing it.  I've always wished I had kept in touch with him to know what happened, and I've always wondered what life would have been like if I would have had the courage to follow my conscience.

My parents met me when the bus arrived back in Bridgeton and -- I know this is weird, looking back -- were disappointed that I hadn't somehow failed the physical.

Two months later, I received my draft notice.

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