I was drafted into the Army on July 11, 1967, soon after I’d graduated from colleg. I didn’t want to go into the Army, nor did I want to serve in the Vietnam War. But, after two half-hearted attempts to get out of the draft (applying to the Peace Corps and for Air Force OCS), I submitted to the draft.
I had Basic Training at Ft. Dix; Clerk AIT at Ft. Leonard Wood; and on December 13, arrived in Vietnam. I did a one-year tour of duty with the 527th Personnel Service Company in Qui Nhon, came home on December 8, served out my Army commitment as the company clerk of the Command Information Unit in Washington, D.C., and was released from active duty on July 10, 1969.
While I was going through it, and for several years afterward, I felt that my two years in the U.S. Army was a complete waste of twenty-four months of my life. But in my early thirties I changed my mind. Today, I strongly believe that those two years amounted to a positive thing for me—and for my country.
I spent that time living as close as brothers to men I very likely never would have interacted with more than perfunctorily in civilian life—men of virtually every race, ethnicity, and social class. That was an invaluable life lesson. Plus, serving my country and being in the military (and in a war) was a rite of passage for me that has had a positive impact on my life in many ways ever since.
My experience is the cornerstone of my belief that national service is a positive, valuable thing—for individuals and for the country. Serving in the military or other national service areas should be mandatory for every able-bodied and mentally healthy American at eighteen or twenty-two. The choice of which type should be up to the individual. Serving in this way—what William James called “the moral equivalent of war” would help every individual who undertook it, as well as our country.