Where did I serve?

Sitting in at the Oakland Induction Center. Stop the Draft Week. October, 1967.

It seems that the Ken Burn’s doc about Vietnam has stirred the patriotic fervor of some of the trolls who write to this blog.

I have received a few like this from the usual chicken hawks: “Watching the Ken Burn’s series makes me have to ask, where did you serve, Fred? Or did you?”

I assume these anonymous trolls were chicken hawks because the men and women I know who went to Vietnam don’t hide behind anonymity when they talk about their experience.

Like my friend Barry Romo. Barry went to Vietnam and came home to oppose the war as a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Barry will be on our Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers episode this Friday at 11AM on Chicago’s 105.5fm and streaming on the internet on http://www.lumpenradio.com

As for me? I registered for the draft when I turned 18 in 1966.

But the Selective Service System was set up to sort who would go to fight and who got to stay home and it was a clearly race and class based system.

Go to college and you received a deferment for as long as you stayed in school. Otherwise you were classified 1-A, which meant you were drafted.

Draftees were overwhelmingly Black, brown and working class.

Even though I was a student, I refused the privilege of a student deferment. More than that, I along with thousands of other students and non-students, organized opposition to the war.

Opposition to the draft during the Vietnam war was both a way of disrupting the war effort and exposing the unfairness of the draft itself.

In 1967 I received my notice to appear for a pre-induction physical at the Los Angeles Selective Service induction center.

My fellow members of Students for a Democratic Society came with me and caused a ruckus forcing them to lock the doors. Nobody went through the process that day.

Later that year I helped organize Stop the Draft Week in Oakland.

Tens of thousands of people surrounded the Oakland induction center preventing the buses filled with draftees from getting through.

Selective Service never asked me to show up ever again.

But I did keep showing up.

So, anonymous. That is where I served.



21 thoughts on “Where did I serve?

  1. We tend to forget that draft dodgers and dissenters unveiled the horribly unjust parts of the Vietnam War and the inherently racist institutional processes that sent young men to die in that unjust war. Many came to grips with that during or soon after the war. Our President, James Earl Carter, tried to acknowledge and address the national suffering by granting amnesty to those who left the United States or were imprisoned in order to start the healing. In the mid 80’s there was a national reckoning and reflection as we belatedly honored those who served and welcomed them home. I thought our lesson learned was to hold our leaders feet to the fire to ensure that our national policies would make us proud and keep us out of divisive engagements. We need to keep serving in any way we can!

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. And thank you for your service, Fred! As the Ken Burns documentary so clearly shows, it was a national tragedy that we were there at all, and a total waste of 58000 American lives, to say nothing of Vietnamese lives.. Thank the kids who finally stopped it. And we still have not learned.

  3. Hey Fred, Thanks for calling out the chicken hawks. I have a story I have only in the last couple years begun to tell in public about how I ended up not going into the army, because it’s only the relatively recent victories of gay and genderqueer liberation which have given me the courage to tell it proudly. I knew from the time I was about 13 years old that I could never kill anyone, much less hold a gun. I’ve never struck another person, ever. Yet I was not in any conventional way religious. So I began writing about my Conscientious Objection to war, collecting papers and building a dossier for myself to eventually submit to the Draft Board. I did take student deferments, but in 1968 I felt I could no longer, dropped out of graduate school, and went back to Portland, OR, where I’d gone to college, to join the Resistance. That basically meant being prepped to go to jail. When I was called to my physical, I did go, thinking I would get my 1A and then refuse to serve. But the question on the paperwork that said, “Have you ever had a homosexual experience?” set off a lightbulb. I didn’t consider myself gay, but it was a question I could honestly answer yes to, and I said to myself, “This is better than going to jail.” The psychiatrist who interviewed me seemed even more embarrassed about the situation than I was, and readily gave me a “medical” exemption as a queer. I’ve lived most of my life as the straight white male I mostly am, and still I’m relieved to finally be able to acknowledge and proudly share the genderqueer parts of my herstory as well.

  4. Selective Service never asked me to show up ever again.

    What number did you draw in the lottery, Fred? Could that have anything to do with it?

    ‘Cause otherwise, it’s really credible that you scared them off.

    1. Study history before making a fool of yourself. The lottery wasn’t instituted until 1970, four years after I registered and took my 1-A status. Three years after my first induction notice.

  5. I have not yet seen the Burns documentary on the Vietnam war, but coincidentally I recently came across a 1963 copy of the magazine “Saturday Evening Post” in which the cover story dealt with the war in Vietnam. The Post was read widely (in the “old days”) and it was hardly a left wing publication, but the article on Vietnam by Stanley Karnow clearly outlined the corrupt and immoral dynasty of the Diem government and the futility of the war. If I had been a thinking, engaged person back in 1963 (I was only 9), I don’t see how anyone could have supported the war effort after reading that article.

    1. Anonymous chicken hawk: So which part of this story do you think is bill shit (sic)? That the war was wrong. That the draft got mainly Black, brown and working class kids? That Barry Romo is on Hitting Left this week? That we caused a ruckus at the L.A. inductioon center? That I helped organize Stop the Draft Week in Oakland in 1967? That they wouldn’t draft me even though I was 1-A?

  6. Fred, thanks for your service in trying to make this country a better place by choosing to voice your opinion about an unjust war in which our country participated mainly for the benefit of corporate profiteers and greed mongers. Thanks to your friend, Barry Romo, as well.

  7. Yes, indeed we ’caused a ruckus’ that day. As I recall, we got a picture of Fred begging to be let in to the induction center after the doors were locked. We told him to send it to his draft board with a letter explaining that he was there but they rejected him.

  8. Fred, you got your numbers wrong again!!! 86 % where white that served in Vietnam and 12 % colored!!!! 82 % wounded and killed white. What, told you not to come back?????? Fred, C. Clay was classified 4f after failing the mental stuff. In 1967 they need more troops reclassified him a1 he then saw Jesus…or I should say…the other religion!!! I love the way you work with words…

    1. Thanks for loving my words. It helps to read them. 76% of the men sent to Vietnam were working class. “Colored”? Really?

  9. I went to Vietnam as a 14 teen year old , My older brother signed me up as of being of age, he had fought in WW2 and was teaching me a lesson. there is a photo on line of myself hit in the chest with a bandage on it, the caption reads pfc da crum but that photo is myself at 14 yrs

  10. Hey Fred…why don’t you tell them the truth…You served in the classroom!…attempting to educate children toward a more fulfilling and peaceful life…instead of choosing to participate in bloody carnage for the profit of bloody Corporate Imperialists.

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