Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Selective Service Draft

by Jerry Johnson, Sutton Historical Society

Graduation is a time to celebrate finishing school and looking forward with hope and anticipation to the array of opportunities ahead. Such was not always the case.

Not very long ago graduating men and boys found a huge obstacle between them and those opportunities: the Selective Service Act, the Draft. The Draft had a way of not only influencing decisions but it made those decisions.

The WWI Draft Card of Carl H. (Jack) Nolde
The draft was used to select men for military service in major wars until 1973. I’ve found two misconceptions by those too young to have memories of the draft. One age group remembers the lottery system that existed after 1970. Others, younger, relate the draft to a time when rich guys paid others to serve – a phenomenon of the Civil War which they probably recently studied.

Draftees were a small percentage of soldiers in the Union army. Saving the Union was a popular cause that fed the fighting force for over two years. Lincoln then asked for authority to conscript soldiers and that threat sustained a flow of men that nearly met the needs.

There was no draft in the brief four-month long Spanish-American War. Europe was almost three years into World War I before the US formally entered and began to raise a force of 4 million.

The draft registration process for WWI was a three-day operation. Men aged 21 to 31 all registered on June 5, 1917. One year later on June 5, 1918 new 21-year olds registered and finally on September 12, 1918, just two months before wars end, all men age 21 to 45 were required to register.

Genealogists love WWI registration cards where men listed their birthdates, birthplaces, color of hair and eyes, build and a tall/medium/short selection. It may be the only place to learn a man’s middle name.

World War II threatened in 1940 when a survey of the US public showed 71% support for “the immediate adoption of compulsory military training for all young men.”  The Selective Service used a lottery system exclusively to round up more than 10,000,000 men aged 18-38 for service as voluntary enlistments were suspended in 1942.

Men leaving Clay County for service in World War II earned recognition in local newspapers. This group appeared in the Sutton News on October 29, 1942; the to-be soldiers were identified left to right (apparently not distinguished by row) as: Glen McCune, Glenvil; Marvin Pope, Sutton; Ernest Hanson, Sutton; Roy Ochsner, Saronville; Marlow Munson, Sutton; Erwin Wenske, Glenvil; Glen Swanson, Sutton; Kent Wilson, Fairfield; Alfred Davis, Glenvil; John Dunleavy, Harvard; Louis Drudik, Deweese; Gayle Gunn, Edgar and Edor Johnson, Edgar.

Selective Service drafted 1.5 million over the age of 18 and a half for the Korean War, just over half of those who served. A survey of draft age men found 64% satisfied that this draft was fair.

Onto Vietnam.

Army PFC Jack Schroder of Clay Center killed in Vietnam in 1967 at the age of 20.
Men of about those 50-year reunion classes lived this draft.

The Vietnam War officially lasted from November 1, 1955 through April 30, 1975. The US had “military advisors” “in country” from the 1950’s but things began ramping up as troop levels tripled in 1961 and again in 1962 then numbers got real serious in the mid-1960’s.

President Kennedy early on balked at the idea of drafting family bread-winners and by executive order exempted husbands. Curiously, marriages happened. As force requirements increased that policy was changed to exempting only fathers. Again, curiously, business in maternity wards picked up. These men were sometimes called “Kennedy husbands” and “Kennedy fathers.”

Certain professions such as teaching and other skilled workers were exempt allowing them to continue in those jobs. The Peace Corps was authorized in late 1961 and offered another escape from the draft. Personal note: had I managed the timing better I would have been in West Cameroon from 1966-1968 and not at all from a pressing desire to live in West Africa.

Society appreciated that education is a good thing; hence, the student deferment came into being. Curiously colleges and universities saw enrollment climb. Personal note: University of Nebraska, 1961-1966.

Marine PFC Thomas Leichleiter of Harvard, killed in Vietnam in 1969 at the age of 18.
Did the draft influence these decisions by young people to get married, have kids or go to college? No. The draft made those decisions. Believe me.

A classification system identified each individual’s relationship to the draft. Status 1-A was “available for military service.” It was from this pool that the county selective service office did their “pickin’ and choosin’”. There were several other “1’s” including for conscientious objectors, members of the Public Health Service and other services and 1-Y, qualified but only under greater need (asthma was one such criteria.)

Number 2’s were deferments – you were on “hold.” Classification 2-C was for the agriculture occupation; 2-S, “activity in study” – college student (five years for yours truly) and 2-A, other civilian occupation deferments.

Classification 3-A was for fathers.

The major Number 4 classification was 4-F, not qualified for any military service.

This serious imposition into our lives sometimes created memorable situations. A very good friend learned of his 4-F classification the morning of his wedding, a wedding that would have happened eventually but was timed to qualify for the “husband” deferment then in effect. Is that a true story? Take it from the Best Man.

Other “4” classifications were for completed service, sole surviving son, minister, alien and “officially deferred by law.”

Raise your hands all that have been waiting for one other group: Canadian immigrants.

Perhaps as many as 100,000 men who had exhausted this array of “outs” and still seriously did not want to serve then chose to leave the country. Canada was the most popular destination where officials did not extradite fugitives from the draft. That fugitive status remained until President Ford issued a conditional amnesty in 1974 and when President Carter later pardoned them.

The net result of the Vietnam War era draft is that over 2.2 million men were directly drafted between 1964 and 1975 and the draft is credited with “encouraging” 8.7 million additional “volunteers” including yours truly. Again, the draft not only influenced decisions but made decisions for us.

One more statistic: 58,195 men and women gave their lives in the Vietnam War and are listed on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Though I’m telling the story of the draft emphasizing those who were pressed, or “forced” into military service, a large number of those who served, probably most, did so truly voluntarily with full understanding of the consequences.  Society levied an obligation on them, an obligation that they met, willingly or not.

The names of no Sutton men or women appear on that wall in Washington. Three Clay County men are listed:

"The Village" is a book about the Marine unit of Marine Lance Corporal
Paul Fielder of Harvard. The web site at
does not have a photo of Paul Fielder. Can anyone help with that?
Marine Lance Corporal Paul Wesley Fielder from Harvard on Panel 10E, line 97, died September 15, 1966 in Quang Tin Province at the age of 20.

Marine Private First Class Thomas Allen Leichleiter from Harvard on Panel 18W, line 122, died September 21, 1969 in Quang Tri Province at the age of 18.

Army Private First Class Jack Wayne Schroder from Clay Center on Panel 28E, line 30, died October 17, 1967 in Binh Long Province at the age of 20.

Please read that last part again. Thanks.

Personal wrap-up: After I’d nursed my 2-S deferment for five years and tested other options our local Selective Service Board noticed that I’d graduated. They reclassified me 1-A and I learned I was to be on the next month’s draft call. I visited the recruiting offices in the Lincoln Post Office and “volunteered” for the Air Force. Was I “avoiding” the draft or a “draft dodger?” Of course, I just wasn’t very good at it.

The Air Force surprised me with an assignment to a missile wing in Wichita, Kansas as part of the Cold War. Wichita was not a bad place to spend “The War.” Then one thing led to another leading to Montana, Omaha and finally Northern California where, after 21 years I finally found a reason to leave. Few of those decisions were mine but I was extremely fortunate.

Finally, let me return to LCpl Paul Fielder who is listed above. Those who remember Paul speak highly of him, from a tough background, a kid who saw the Marines as his opportunity. His is a compelling story. A book, “The Village” tells the story of his 15-man Marine unit and of the night he was killed. A synopsis of that story is at
This photo of the Marine unit of Lance Corporal Paul Fielder was taken within two weeks of the attack that killed about
one half of the unit including LCpl Fielder. He is seen here kneeling at the right.

 My wife and I visited the Washington, D. C. and the Vietnam Memorial in April, 2013. It was her first visit to the wall where we stopped and paused for a time before Panel W1 where, on line 97 near the bottom of the last panel and near the end of the war is the name "Warren R Spencer" a tech school classmate, car pool buddy and friend from 1967.
Rita Johnson before Panel W1, the last panel on the Vietnam Memorial Wall where
the name of our friend Warren R. Spencer can be found. Warren was a B-52 radar
navigator whose plane was downed on December 20, 1972 during the Christmas, 1972
 offensive against Hanoi and Haiphong Harbor. One account of the incident is at
The panel is reflecting back to the east to the Washington Monument past the visitors
up the gentle slope of the early one half of the memorial. Smiles are rare here.
 This article first appeared in the Sutton Life Magazine in May, 2013. Contact Jarod Griess at 402-984-4203 or at for more information about this publication.

No comments: