Saturday, June 13, 2009

Why I celebrate Flag Day

Sunday is Flag Day, which is such a big holiday you have to be reminded that Sunday is Flag Day (note: in the US only. For all I know in New Zealand Sunday is explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman Day. And Finland, your Flag Day is coming up so don’t put off shopping till the last moment.) But America’s Flag Day holds a real significance for me. It was on June 14th that I enlisted in the Army Reserves. (This was quite awhile ago but not so long that there were less than 50 stars.)

The Viet Nam War was raging and the country instituted a draft lottery based on your birthday. The first 150 chosen dates were certain to get drafted, the next 100 fell in the maybe category, and the remaining numbers beat the rap.

My number was 4.

I had barely lit the prayer candles before my birthday was announced.

The alternatives were Canada (too cold), stay in school forever, develop a clubbed foot, or get my ass into the Reserves. In the Reserves you only had to go to 16 hours of meetings a month and two weeks of summer camp. But… for SIX years. And you had to complete regular Army basic training and three months of advanced training. Did I mention… SIX years of this?

Plus, getting into the Reserves was not a snap. There was a waiting list for artillery units. But I was very fortunate. At the time I was an intern at KMPC radio in Los Angeles. One of the disc jockeys, Roger Carroll, recorded weekly shows for AFRTS. He told me about an Armed Forces Radio Reserve Unit that was based in Los Angeles.

“Gooood mornnninggg, Viet Nammmmmm!”

He put me in touch with the right person and sure enough I got in… on Flag Day.

I figured, at least I was safe. They weren’t calling up Reserve Units. Two weeks after I had joined there was some uprising in Jordan and sure enough, President Nixon called up some Reserve troops. Holy shit! So for the next 5 years and 50 weeks I pretty much lived in terror.

Ultimately, I was not called up, I met my partner, which launched my writing career, had the background to write MASH with some authority, and got to see the Ozarks in the winter.

Flag Day is a holiday that I really celebrate. I’m proud to be in this country (especially since the last election) and proud that I did my part (okay, very small part but still. I could be producing potash in Saskatoon right now).

Happy Flag Day everybody!


Just Call Me Joe said...

Nothin' wrong with potash. In fact, there's lots of money in potash. If you played your cards right, you could have wound up a potash billionaire -- and perhaps used the money to produce a no-studio-interference version of "Volunteers".

And Saskatoon, incidentally, is a very nice city. (February excepted.)

Roger Owen Green said...

My draft number was 2! Beat you. But I'm younger so, after having had to go through meeting with my draft board, I got conscientious objector status; ultimately didn't get drafted at all.

BTW, parts of the US Code I note here, including the part how to dispose of the flag when it's worn out.

D. McEwan said...

I was SO LUCKY! My number was 295. My draft counsellor told me to keep my student deferment until December. If they were nowhere near my number come December, I was told to drop my deferment and get classified 1-A. My counsellor told me that the rules were as long as I was 1-A on December 31, even if only for that one day, it counted for the whole year, and if I hadn't been drafted by midnight, they could never touch me again for my whole life, by their own rules.

By December, they were nowhere near my number. It worked.

Of course, if pinch came to shove, I was and still am gay. It was my fallback save. I've always felt that the no-gays-in-the-armed-services rule, and the don't-ask-don't-tell update, are indeed highly discriminating, but they discriminate against straight people.

It has been my intention, since early youth, to try and get through Life without ever killing anyone, so the army was right out. As far as I know, I've kept to my vow. And not for one second did I think that keeping South Vietnam in the hands of dictators friendly to American business interests instead of dictators inimical to American business interests was worth MY life.

You'll notice that we lost that war 34 years ago, and the commies never landed on California's beaches, the world didn't end, America hasn't fallen.

The Vietnam War was not worth one single American Life, and the men who sent our contemporaries there to kill and to die should have been shot. Evil, evil, evil!

Lairbo said...

I was also lucky with a high draft number (somewhere in the 250s) but rather than the reserves, my emergency backup plan was the Navy. A cousin with a higher number had done this a few years before, expecting to a) not get his ass shot off; and b) maybe see the world, or at least Hawaii. As it turned out, he left Fullerton to spend most of his hitch on dry land in San Diego. Not that he ever complained.

Mike Bell said...

So I take it you spent a wonderful winter at Ft. Leonard Wood? Wasn't that the Army Base in "Stripes"?

wv: EMITE - The cockney reply to "Do ya think ee'll do it?"

ernie said...

When I was in high school, three friends and I joined the Canadian Navy Reserve because we believed that we could drink at the bar at the reserve unit. On our first night in uniform, we were stopped by a Petty Officer as we were on our way to the Mess and asked where we were going. When told of our destination, he laughed, pointed to the UA Mess (under age!) and sent us off to enjoy our cola sans rum. Not the only poor, uninformed decision I have ever made.

Tom Quigley said...

True story: A friend of mine who was draft-eligible was in a bar with a television set tuned to the local news the night the first draft lottery dates were pulled. When the report came on and he saw that his birthday had come up #1, he proceeded to keep right on drinking...

Cap'n Bob said...

I enlisted when I was 18, took Basic at Fort Gordon, GA, and AIT at Fort Leonard Wood (in winter, Mike Bell, and it was brutal). Went to Fort Campbell, KY, and in July '67 took a troop ship to Nam with my engineer unit. Frankly, I had a pretty good time in Nam, if you don't count the shellings and 16-hour work days.

Technically, the war ended with a truce, but the whole thing was a goddam fiasco.

D. McEwan said...

"Mike Bell said...
wv: EMITE - The cockney reply to 'Do ya think ee'll do it?' "

Good one, Mike, VERY good one. I laughed. I could hear EASTENDER'S Barbara Windsor saying it.

Geoff said...

I could be producing potash in Saskatoon right now

You must have read that CNN article. But be sure to remember the provincial slogan of Saskatchewan: "But it's a DRY cold."

Anonymous said...

so the big guy who makes fun of the french for "surrendering" is actually a coward who joined the reserve to get out of his duty, because he knew a guy? what a waste.

at least the french are upfront about it, they don't hide behind the real warriors.

Anonymous said...

ernie: no rum at the navy? at least tell me you got some sodomy!

D. McEwan said...

"Anonymous said...
at least the french are upfront about it, they don't hide behind the real warriors."

says the person hiding behind anonymity. I'm impressed by your guts.

"ernie said: no rum at the navy? at least tell me you got some sodomy!"

Ernie, you're confusing the navy with being a pirate. Arrrrr.

WV: resto: what Chico Marx does after working.

Mike Carniello said...

My birthday was Number 1 in 1970, and I was 10 years old. Nothing to fear - and everything to be scared about. Still am scared, even though draft ended before I was 18 - though I do recall having to register at the Post Office.

J.J. said...

Ken, you've no idea what you missed. Numbnuts that I was, I actually volunteered to go regular army. V-O-L-U-N-T-E-E-R-E-D. But, lucky guy that I am, I'm also the only surviver of a shot-down UH-1 Iroquois helicopter (the precursor to the Blackhawk). I live every night with the memory. In retrospect, the Reserves probably wouldn't have been a bad idea.

I don't ever forget, Memorial Day, Flag Day, or Veteran's Day. Sadly, the future continues to assure that those days will have fresh recruits.

Anonymous said...

"D. McEwan said...
says the person hiding behind anonymity. I'm impressed by your guts."

I have nothing to hide from, this is about Ken's actions, not mine.

"you're confusing the navy with being a pirate. Arrrrr."

I think you're confusing _seomthing_ (I don't know what that was) with Churchil. I forgot to ask about the lash tho.

D. McEwan said...

"Anonymous said...
I have nothing to hide from, this is about Ken's actions, not mine."

I'm still missing where you have the balls to sign your name, Anon.

I smell "chicken," and it's not coming from Ken.