Author's Name: Jim Wiemers
Title: "Fear of the Draft"The day before my 14th birthday, President Johnson came on TV to announce that a U.S. ship had been fired upon in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Vietnam War was starting. I cried and told my parents I didn't want to go to war. They laughed and said it was many years away before I needed to worry about that, and by that time the war would be over.
I graduated from high school in 1968, the war was raging on, and so many of us young men were afraid of facing the selective service draft. I had to sign up at the Edwardsville post office, and at that time also applied for my 2S student deferment so I could attend college. I continued to worry and prayed continually that the war would end soon and I would not be drafted. I knew guys who signed up for the Army, but I knew I really wasn't the military type. I wasn't physically active, hated sports, and never wanted to fire a gun. I was a musician, artist, and actor.
After my first year in college I had enough hours to keep my deferment, so I just went to school part-time while I continued to work as a reporter on the SIUE newspaper, the Alestle. When the draft board found out I was going part-time, they reclassified me as 1A and sent me to St. Louis to take a physical. I tried to talk to someone on the draft board, but they said they only responded to written letters. SIUE also wrote on my behalf, but I didn't hear anything until the middle of September. I didn't know if I would be pulled out of school and drafted or what. Suddenly, unannounced, my 2s deferment arrived in the mail. I was safe for another year.
When the lottery for the draft was held, I remember watching it on TV. My birthday was picked as number 55. I was shocked but under the impression that they would be drawing new numbers every year. When I got to school, everyone said no, that number was mine for good. I remember another reporter on the paper laughing and saying, "Wiemers is going to Saigon U. next quarter." That was what we said to each other when our grades fell or we thought we were in danger of flunking out of school.
I kept attending school full-time but always had the draft hanging over my head. I kept praying that the war would be over, but as the years passed Johnson's war became Nixon's war.
In May of 1972 I graduated from college, but I didn't even try to get a job, because I felt certain I would be drafted. In August I got my "greetings" notification. I remember the day I left from the Edwardsville post office. It was a high school reunion. Three guys from my high school class were also there. One got excused because of an old football injury, but the rest of us went for our physicals to St. Louis, then on the bus to Fort Leonard Wood for basic training. The die had been cast. What I had feared for 8 years had come to pass.
It's hard to fully describe the feeling of having the war and the draft hanging over one's head for so long. As much as I tried to forget about it, every report on the nightly news brought all the fears back.
As it turned out, the war was finally winding down when I got drafted, and by the end of the year few if any men were drafted. The Paris Peace accords started the following year.
I spent my two years in the states, not in Vietnam. Believe it or not, I was one of only a few men drafted who knew how to type. I was made a company clerk and spent my time at Fort Gordon, Georgia. I remember joining a crowd one evening to see POWs welcomed home to be treated at the Eisenhower hospital at Fort Gordon. As I watched them come off the plane, I prayed again and thanked God for watching over me, saving me from the war, and allowing me to make it through my military service. He had been truly watching over me all along.