Memoir of a War Resister—A Novel of the 1960s

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Chapter 45—"Draft Dodger Rag"

Strange things entered the refrigerator, slimy white cubes that shook when you poked them, exotic fruits, things that looked like hamburgers, almost tasted like hamburgers if covered with enough ketchup, but weren’t even distantly related to hamburgers, jars of wheat germ, raw goat’s milk. Ronda continued Peter’s alfalfa sprout production. In my room, I had my private stash of chocolate covered peanuts and lifesavers. All was right with the world.

“I’m afraid prison is going to change him.” I said one night at dinner, chopping an already tiny piece of tofu into smaller pieces until it crumbled beneath my fork. I put down the fork and leaned my face into my hands, elbows on the table. “I don’t want to lose him.” I scooped more salad onto my plate and poured too much Thousand Island dressing on top of it.

Ronda handed me a glass of papaya juice and said, “You’re mad at him, aren’t you?”

“I am royally pissed off at him. I hate that he chose prison. We could have gone to Canada or Sweden or underground. Why didn’t I fall in love with some rich prep school frat guy who could buy his way out of Nam? Like Joe Scott Joe. Although it didn’t work for him. He got shipped out.”

“Who in the world is Joe Scott Joe?” she asked.

“Doesn’t matter.”

“How am I supposed to follow this conversation if you throw out names like Joe Scott Joe.”

“I met him my freshman year. A jerk who only cared about booze and himself.”

“Why would you want to fall in love with him?” Ronda took another piece of cornbread and poured honey on it.

“The real question is why do I lose everyone I fall in love with?”

Rick walked in the door, grabbed a plate and joined us at the table. “Thanks to whoever made this salad.”

We ignored him. “Don’t blame Marty, Becky,” Ronda said.

“Blame him for what?” Rick asked.

“Hush, Rick. We’re not talking to you.” Ronda didn’t look at Rick when she said that. “He didn’t have a choice. The only thing he ever did was follow his conscience.”

“And fall in love with me. That’s the other thing he did.” I put the last bit of slimy tofu in my mouth. I might get used to this.

“Well, I can’t wait to meet him.”

“You’ll love him,” Rick said.

“Hush, Rick. I told you we’re not talking to you,” Ronda said. I winked at Rick. He shrugged.

Editor’s Corner

By Becky Jamison

The Lake Forest College Students Against the War will be holding a weekend of fun and education October 9th and 10th. Join us Friday as we listen to true stories about how the Vietnam War is affecting young men in this country. Then stick around for a party.

Saturday October 10th the Vietnam Veterans Against the War will provide draft counseling for all draft eligible males.

President Nixon has promised to reduce troops in Vietnam but the war continues. Get involved. The LFC Students Against the War meet every Wednesday night at seven o’clock in Hixson Lounge.

Friday night I took the microphone before a packed room. “Welcome Lake Foresters. Thanks for coming out. Tonight, we have stories to tell and tomorrow draft counselors are available from noon on. Sign up at the back table for a time and come talk about your options.” I looked around at the faces of the young males eager to figure out their lives, the young females who loved them and couldn’t do anything about the draft.

“First, from Forester class of 1968, Jake Stedman. Jake spent two years at a hospital doing alternative service. Please welcome, conscientious objector, Jake Stedman.”

Ginger, due to deliver in less than two months, gave Jake at kiss as he came to the stage. I handed him the microphone. He talked and the crowd stayed silent. Jake ended. “If any of you are considering applying for conscientious objector status, I’ll be here all day tomorrow. Stop by and see me. I’ve got forms and information.”

After he finished, he read Peter’s letter. It ended, “I know I may never be able to come home again. But Canada ain’t half bad. I’ve got my greenhouse. I’ve got my friends. You’re welcome here anytime. Love and peace from the land up north.”

I took the microphone again. “Thanks, Jake. Now I’d like to read a letter from my boyfriend, Marty Olsen. Marty can’t be here tonight because he is in Joliet Prison for twenty-five months for refusing to go to Vietnam.” I took Marty’s letter out of the pocket of the brown leather jacket. I read. “Hey Lake Foresters. I wish I could speak to you in person. Catch me in a couple years and we can talk.” I started to cry. Damn. Ginger walked up on stage next to me, took my hand and whispered, “You can do this. Take a deep breath.”

I moved the microphone back in front of my face and started reading again.

“Each one of you has to make a decision about what you are going to do when the draft comes for you. Only you can figure that out. When I had to make the decision, I didn’t consult the person I love most in the world.” I took a deep breath. I pulled the red bandana out of my belt loop and rubbed the tears off my face. “In the end I had to live with myself so the decision was mine alone.” I got to the ending, “I’m free here in prison because I did what was right for me. My only regret? Leaving the people I love. So listen to your conscience. Don’t be complicit with the evil perpetrated by the U.S. government.” One line remained. I held the letter out to Ginger. “I can’t finish it. Please.”

She took the microphone and read, “And please take care of Becky for me.”

I blew my nose into the red bandana and took the microphone back. “Let’s end this war, okay?”

I took a deep breath and then introduced Billy. “Our last speaker is Marty’s brother, Billy Olsen. Billy is a Vietnam veteran, returned from Vietnam in 1967. A member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Please welcome Billy Olsen.”

I lowered the microphone as Julie wheeled Billy up to the stage. I gave him a hug. “Give ’em hell, Billy.”

No one made a sound in the room. Billy talked about a frontless war with a faceless enemy, about the fear, heat, jungle, chaos, his injury. “We walked through the jungle towards a hamlet where we were told Vietcong soldiers hid. I marched near the front of the line. I heard a shot and turned. My buddy behind me was down. I ran to him and he died in my arms. Then I felt an incredible pain, shot in the spine by the same sniper who shot my buddy. And here I am.” Everyone in the room was crying. Billy continued. “Come for draft counseling tomorrow no matter what your lottery number is or if you don’t have a number yet. Everybody come and support. Speak out. This war is wrong and we must speak out until we get out of Vietnam.” With a Semper Fi, he was done.

The chant began, “Hell No, We Won’t Go. Hell No, We Won’t Go.” The intensity in the room was palpable. People lingered, surrounded Jake, surrounded Billy, wanted to be near them, wanted someone to tell them what to do.

I think every male in the freshman class came for draft counseling the next day. They got information on immigrating to Canada, on physical and mental deferments, on what might happen if they refused and didn’t show up. They learned how to file for conscientious objector status. All because the United States engaged in an immoral war that very few people supported anymore.

U.S. Soldier Body Count: 53,281

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