Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
Yes, Millennials and Gen Z have it rough, but there was also this little thing some college students dealt with back in the day. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
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‘Biggest mistake of my young life…’
Last month, I wrote about student loans, and the ongoing rumors that the Biden administration might wipe them out. Everyone has an opinion on this; most of our readers think it would be a terrible idea.
Since then, I've wondered if it's really true that young people now—let's say Millennials and Generation Z—have things much tougher than previous generations when it comes to higher education.
That's perhaps true in a financial sense. Tuition is much higher, admission rates are much lower at top colleges, and yet, it's never been easier to borrow huge amounts of money to pay for it all (or harder to pay it back, in some cases).
But, it's worth remembering that every generation faces its own unique challenges. And Baby Boomers had to deal with something that neither my fellow Generation Xers nor later generations have had to confront.
That “something” was the Vietnam War, and the draft. This is why I was asking recently if any of our readers happened to be turning 71 on July 9.
If so, \either you (or else, if you’re not an American man, others born on the same day as you), would have been first in line for the draft at one point—and a powerful symbol on top of it.
Allow me to quote from the daily student newspaper at Harvard University back then (choosing Harvard because its archives are readily available online for free). Note the headline:
Draft Lottery Picks July 9 as Number One
Selective Service officials yesterday picked from drums numbers that will determine the likelihood that those born in 1951 will be drafted during the next seven years.
Yesterday's drawing was similar to last December's in immediate effect: confusion in every potential draftee's mind; thoughts of suicide, self-mutilation, and flight in some. And, like last year, nobody could quite agree on which minds should be feeling which.
From the New York Times, same day:
2d Draft Lottery Selects Call-Up Order for 1971
Hundreds of thousands of young men learned a bit about the future today as the Selective Service System held its second annual lottery for the military draft.
The only sign of emotion—slight rustlings in the audience in the Commerce Department Auditorium—came early in the drawing, when July 9 was matched with No. 1, and about two hours later, when July 7 was matched with No. 365.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department announced today a draft call of 10,000 men for August, the lowest monthly call of the year.
I admit it hadn't occurred to me to look up which date was last; of course July 7 is today; July 9 will be Saturday this year.
Anyway, I don't want to start a war between the generations, but I think it's worth remembering that for the Baby Boomer generation, the Vietnam War was to put it lightly, a pretty big issue.
A reported 58,220 Americans were killed and an estimated 160,000 wounded in Vietnam. And, of course, there are other experiences besides the draft:
Many people joined up voluntarily, many served honorably.
Some saw their experience as the best thing that happened to them.
Some found loopholes to avoid serving legally, some went to Canada (I've seen estimates ranging from 20,000 to 125,000).
About 200,000 or more were accused of violating draft laws. Most prominent: Muhammad Ali.
Even though the actual prospect of conscription was focused on men, I think it's fair to say the war affected both men and women. (I wasn't born yet, so set me right in the comments if I'm getting the general feeling of any of this wrong.)
Speaking of things I wasn't yet alive to witness, I searched for first-person accounts of what it was like to be drafted: not so much to fight (although that's fascinating), but simply about the angst ahead of time—the idea of going from being a recent graduate one day to Private So-and-So the next.
Lo and behold, how's this for a headline: What It Was Like to Be Drafted, which Marc Leepson, George Washington University Class of 1967 and Qui Nhon, Vietnam Class of 1968, wrote in the NYT a few years back.
He was drafted before the lottery, but it seemed apt:
I was drafted into the Army on July 11, 1967, three weeks after my 22nd birthday. Seemingly within minutes after I’d graduated from George Washington University that May, my draft board in Hillside, N.J., changed my status from II-S (student) to I-A (cannon fodder).
I distinctly remember thinking that I’d made the biggest mistake of my young life taking my chances with the draft. I survived the eight weeks of basic, shedding 25 pounds in the process. Then came the day in early September when I received orders for advanced training.
I signaled to the clerk. “What’s 70A-10?” I asked him. He replied with these exact words: “Same as me, clerk.”
Clerk school. Not Tigerland. I wouldn’t get killed my first day in Vietnam. A get out of jail free card. I’ve never felt anything like the shock and euphoria of that moment in the half-century that has whizzed by since that moment.
Maybe the story is a bit anticlimactic in that Leepson wound up working as a clerk in a base in Vietnam for a year, sending other people home for his entire tour.
But, I'm glad in a way. Because, even though I don't think I heard from any actual July 9, 1951 babies, I bet that we have quite a few readers of that era, along with other Vietnam veterans and people with stories to share.
So, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences. I suppose I’m surprised that with all the talk now of Boomers supposedly having had things so easy, and the legitimate idea that today’s students and grads have things tough, the draft and Vietnam never seems to get mentioned.
Let us know what you think in the comments.
7 other things worth knowing today
A few years back USA Today put together a little interactive feature that lets you know where your birthday might have fallen in the draft. (USA Today)
A record-low 20% of Americans now say the Bible is the literal word of God, down from 24% the last time the question was asked in 2017, and half of what it was at its high points in 1980 and 1984. Meanwhile, a new high of 29% say the Bible is a collection of "fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man." This marks the first time significantly more Americans have viewed the Bible as not divinely inspired than as the literal word of God. The largest percentage, 49%, choose the middle alternative, roughly in line with where it has been in previous years. (Gallup)
A Texas woman accused of killing cyclist Anna Moriah Wilson was captured on a beach town in Costa Rica. I included a link to this story back in May, so I wanted to follow up. (Fox4News)
President Biden awarded the Medal of Honor to four Vietnam veterans, one of them posthumously. "Not every service member has received the full recognition they deserve," Biden said. "Today, we're setting the record straight." (Fox5Atlanta)
A kangaroo ran free in Louisiana after a parrot figured out how to unlock his enclosure door. (Insider)
Very few people attempt to walk around the entire world, and even fewer actually manage to complete the journey. Meet Tom Turcich, from New Jersey, who became the 10th person on record to achieve this remarkable feat. His four-legged companion Savannah was the first dog to do so. (KCTV)
Last year, I wrote about Charles Jackson French, a Navy mess attendant on a destroyer in World War II who saved 15 of his shipmates when their destroyer was sunk. Besides his heroism the story was noteworthy because of how French, who was Black, almost immediately faced "resumed racism" from other Navy sailors when he and the men he rescued were pulled from the water. Anyway, I just learned that in May, the U.S. Navy posthumously awarded French the Navy-Marine Corps Medal, which is the highest decoration for non-combat heroism. It's the same medal President Kennedy was awarded for a fairly similar act a year later. (Understandably, Twitter)
Thanks for reading. U.S. Government photo. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.