Ain’t Released Me Yet
Memoirs of a REMF
Copyright© 2016 by Robert B. Martin, IV
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the copyright owner, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal. I have attempted to recreate events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them.
“Greetings” From Uncle Sam
“I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars, for young men to die in, particularly stupid wars of this kind that add nothing to our security.”……..…. George McGovern, U.S. Senator, during the 1972 Presidential campaign
Where did this all start? To answer that question, it is necessary to take you back to the year 1968. Carol Ann and I had been married for one year and she had recently graduated from the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy, from where I had graduated the previous year. We moved to Savannah in June of 1968 because of job opportunities that would allow us to work together in the same hospital pharmacy. It was a homecoming of sorts, as I was born in Savannah, but my parents and I moved away when I was only two or three years old. Returning to Savannah in 1968 was the first time I had been back since leaving over twenty years earlier.
Carol Ann and I had only been in Savannah for a few months when I arrived home from work one day to find a letter from the President of the United States of America. It was my “Greetings from Uncle Sam” letter, an ORDER TO REPORT FOR INDUCTION. It did not begin with the word “Greetings” as is commonly thought. It simply said "GREETING.” No “s” on the end of the word. Only one greeting. I must have said something like, “Why me?” But more than likely it was something like “Oh, shit!” or worse. I was almost 25-years old, married, an expectant father, a practicing hospital pharmacist, and I felt as though I had been unfairly singled out. My world, as I knew it, had ended.
Being a married, 25-year old, university-educated healthcare professional from a white, upper-middle class family, I was not your typical draftee. But, somehow I had managed to “beat” the odds and get drafted anyway.
I phoned my draft board in Randolph County, Georgia and asked why they had waited so long to draft me. Why hadn’t they draft me right out of college? The answer was words to the effect, “If we had waited much longer you would be 26-years old and we wouldn’t have been able to draft you.” I guess that was as good a reason as any, even though it really made no difference. Drafted is drafted.
Randolph County was poor, small, and at least 50% black. I don’t know how many young men from Randolph County were drafted during the Vietnam War. I don't know of any men drafted from Cuthbert. I had attended segregated public schools and had no idea how many blacks my age may have been drafted. I did know for certain that I was the only person out of my high school class that was drafted. A few had enlisted out of high school in 1962 but there was no Vietnam War at that time. As a result of my being drafted almost seven years out of high school I was the only one I know of from my hometown to go to Vietnam.
The draft lottery would not begin for another year, December of 1969. Had it begun a year earlier I would never have been selected. Men older than 19-years of age would not be drafted unless there were not enough 18- and 19-year old men to fill the draft quotas each month. Even if younger men hadn’t been taken first, my birthday was March 13, which was #259 and the highest number selected for the draft in 1969 was #195. Still, it could have been worse. Two and a half percent (2.5%) of those drafted were sent to the Marines, whether they wanted to go or not.
The President’s letter gave me about a week before reporting to the United States Army. With a pregnant wife who was 250 miles from her family home, that was not enough time. I couldn’t leave her in Savannah. I needed to move her back to her parent’s home. Of course in my conversation with the draft board I was never offered or told about extensions available to aid in the relocation of my family or even of my right to appeal, only that I had to go. And who was I to argue? I never burned my draft card or demonstrated. I didn’t run to Canada or apply as a Conscientious Objector. I just did what I was told. That’s the way I was raised. Authority was obeyed, not questioned.
Not knowing what else to do, I decided to visit the local recruiters in Savannah. Perhaps I could cut a deal and get my choice of something. I had heard somewhere that if I enlisted prior to the reporting date on the draft notice that I would have some choice in what was to become of me. Maybe I could bargain with them. So off to the Chatham County, Georgia Courthouse in Savannah I went. I was a college graduate and a licensed pharmacist so perhaps I could get a direct commission as a pharmacy officer. Little did I know the armed forces had very little need for pharmacy officers at that time and none of the slots were open. When I walked into that courthouse I was in complete submission. I felt as though I was turning myself in for some crime that I had NOT committed but had no way to prove my innocence.
I would not even consider the Air Force or the Navy, as they required a four-year enlistment. I wasn't gung-ho enough to consider the Marines, so I threw myself on the mercy of the Army recruiter. I told him my story and he made me an offer I couldn't refuse. I could delay reporting by three and a half months if I agreed to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) after my Basic and Advanced training were completed. He said that after receiving my commission I could get a branch transfer to the Medical Service Corps and serve as a pharmacy officer. That sounded like the best deal I was going to get. However, there were only three Officer Candidate Schools from which I was allowed to choose. All three were in the Army’s “combat arms.” They were the Combat Engineers, Infantry, and Field Artillery. As far as I knew, the Engineers had to be out in front to build bridges and roads while Infantry lieutenants said, “Follow Me!” and were the first in and last out. I thought that the Artillery stayed in the rear and shot over the infantry’s and engineer’s heads. It was an easy choice. I signed on the dotted line.
To be continued in Chapter 5, Induction and Zero Week....