Remembering the call to fight
By Brian Doyle
Found my draft card yesterday, while clearing out a drawer, and the mind it did reel. The leap of time—40 years ago! The terse stamped words, revealing nothing of the seethe and roar and argument of that time. That boy, just 18 years old, registering for a draft for a war of which he knew essentially nothing. I remember Brother Four shouting furiously at the dinner table, later that evening, that he would join Canada rather than the army. I remember Brother Five pointedly registering immediately as a rebuke and rebuff to Brother Four. I remember Brother Two joining the Navy and then unjoining, testifying about his conscience to this very draft board, Local Board Number Four in New York. I remember my father, an Army veteran of the Second World War and the Korean War, going with him, and being proud of his son’s honesty. I remember being asked my height by the grim lady registering kids for the draft, and she never looked up, so I added two inches, and that is why I was six feet tall then and am 70 inches tall now. I remember watching the draft lottery on television with my friends and the way they turned and looked at me when my number was called first among the four of us. I remember my dad explaining that the army had basically stopped call-ups the year before and probably nothing would happen. I remember being terrified anyway. I remember wondering if I was brave or not, and concluding probably not. I remember wanting to be angry and sure, like Brother Four, or calm and sure, like Brother Five, but being totally at sea about duty and citizenship and war and peace, like Brother Two.
I remember thinking, as I stood with the other shy skinny sweating pimply kids in line at the post office, that blowing a guy’s head off to settle an argument about the government of a country more than 10,000 miles from where we stood seemed like a relatively poor idea, as ideas go. It still does.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of the novel Mink River. He writes the weekly “Epiphanies” column at theamericanscholar.org.
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