Scarcely one month after being hired as a seasonal park ranger for the National Park Service, Department of Interior, I received my first induction notice. It was from Selective Service Board #62 out of San Jose, California, one of the toughest draft boards in the nation. I knew that from experience after spending several years negotiating student deferments and trying to achieve conscientious objector status, to no avail. If you were a living, breathing chunk of man flesh, you were pretty much qualified to be cannon fodder in Southeast Asia. This was early 1971 and the Vietnam War was still very much in progress.
Several months earlier I had gone through the humiliating ritual of enduring the military physical exam when a busload of us anxious males were driven to the gothic old induction center in Oakland to be poked, prodded and paraded around. I was still coasting on a student deferment at the time so I wasn’t immediately sent off to basic training. I went back to eating mescaline and being unemployed in sleepy Santa Cruz.
But now I was actually wearing a uniform and working for the federal government as a genuine, bona fide park ranger so I figured that I was already serving my country and maybe didn’t need to be inducted after all. I wrote to my senator and congressman with this novel suggestion but no one seemed to be buying it at the time. Apparently conscription in the military was the only acceptable form of government service, and protecting America’s natural resources was not.
On induction day I stayed in my cabin at Pinnacles National Monument. Shortly thereafter I bought maps of British Columbia and The Draft Dodgers Guide to Canada and began making plans to flee the country. I also began having severe stomach pains, debilitating attacks that would leave me on my back on the floor. Someone suggested that my medical problem might be due to an ulcer and recommended I get it checked out. Which I did in no short order.
Sure enough. Turned out that I had developed a peptic ulcer….from worrying about the draft, no doubt. But an ulcer was a verifiable cause for a 4F so I proudly accepted my doctor’s prognosis, and got my paperwork in order. Meanwhile the Federal Bureau of Investigation had already contacted my parents, looking for their first born son. When I phoned home, my mom gave me a telephone number to call.
Once I made contact with the FBI, I was told to meet with one of their representatives at a location in San Jose. The address was for a building that looked like an abandoned apartment complex with no identifying signs on any of the doors. Nevertheless, I found the building and soon thereafter a fellow with a black suit and black shiny shoes found me.
I was taken into a sparely furnished office where another man in black shiny shoes joined us. At which time I told them how I had been sick on induction day and just couldn’t drag myself out of bed that day. I was the contrite detainee and they were the mystery men in black who would give me one more chance at induction. I agreed to the deal, we shook hands, and I was back on the road to the Pinnacles.
Soon after, I received yet another induction notice. This time I did show up, with my medical papers in hand. I still had to go through the humiliating physical exam ritual however as no one would look at the papers until the very end of the process….at which time I was pronounced 4F. Unfit for service. So I had no choice but to return to my park ranger job which I managed to hang on to for another 32 years. Hopefully during all that time, I provided at least a little bit of public service to this great country of ours.
By the way, within a few years that ulcer of mine just disappeared.