Far removed from the hometown and far removed from anyone or anything that would make the day special, I spent my 18th birthday running to and from fall classes in school Down East. It was just another busy weekday for me.
However, on my to-do list that day was a run up to the post office for a once-in-a lifetime event — register for the draft.
The 15-minute walk during a lunch break did give me pause. America’s participation in the Vietnam War had just ended. The military draft had ended the prior year and following years of protests and draft resistance and/or resentment during the 1960s and early ’70s by many young people.
For a time during the war they came up with a national lottery to decide who would be drafted and forced to join the military and, presumably, go to the unpopular war in the Far East. They drew birthdays, and if your birthday marked on a baby-blue ping-pong ball was drawn early, off you’d go.
Some years before my 18th birthday I remember checking on the first draft lottery, in 1969, just to see. My birthday fell in the mid-100s. That was borderline, meaning I might have been called or I might not have, had I been of age.
Then on my 18th birthday I put pen to postcard to register. They promised that they were not going to draft anymore, that they were going to depend on an all-volunteer military. They just needed my name and address on record, just in case.
And they have not drafted anyone since. It’s quite remarkable, when you think of it. They’ve kept their promise, at least on this one, for nearly 50 years.
Despite all the wars, all the conflicts, America has abided by its volunteer military and has done so quite successfully. It’s taken a strong recruitment effort. But it has worked.
I never volunteered. I had my sights set on college instead and a career in journalism. Some among my peers had sights set on love, marriage and family. Some looked toward civilian careers. Some wanted life here in the hometown.
We all were able to choose among those varied paths of life without being yanked away for four years overseas.
So now I look upon my 16-year-old granddaughter who has come over to help Maw Maw with some housework. She was a tender-hearted, blonde, blue-eyed little girl who had a tendency to pucker up and then bawl too easily when frustrated.
One time when she was about 3 years old she had gotten sand uncomfortably inside her swim suit. She was about to strip at an outdoors beach shower when she wheeled and demanded, “Don’t you look, Paw Paw.” I didn’t.
Now they want to register girls like her for the military draft when they come of age. That’s the word out of Washington from the Marine Corps commandant, the Army chief of staff and a top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In this time of equality they say it’s only fair that girls register just like boys.
They won’t actually draft my granddaughter or anyone else’s, they say. And I admit they have kept their word, so far.
Still I don’t buy the idea. I don’t want my granddaughter to sign up for the draft.
It’s not that I think that she wouldn’t do well. She would. When I see those acrobatic cheerleading stunts of hers, with her being lifted high in the air and then falling into her teammates’ arms, I do not doubt her heart. (One time they did let her fall and hit her head on a hard gym floor.)
No, I just feel that there are some considerations that should remain for young women. Like opening a door for them. I like and want a culture that still opens a door; it’s just nicer that way.
And it’s just nicer to give our young women a break from the draft.
I like the sentiment of famous French writer Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835 in his observations of early America: “One can easily conceive that in thus striving to equalize one sex with the other, one degrades them both.”
Let’s just say no to expanding the draft.
Stephen Harris, a Wilkes county native and resident, returned home to live in State Road.