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Vietnam Deferment

I graduated from High School in June of 1967. I was working from 6PM to 6AM in a plywood manufacturing plant. My parents and family had moved away, so when they left, I rented a room and stayed. Many of my classmates were drafted into the Army. I applied for and received a 4 year deferment from the Draft Board to allow me to go to the University of Maine.

January - May 1967
Two North Vietnamese divisions, operating out of the DMZ that separates North and South Vietnam, launch heavy bombardments of American bases south of the DMZ. These bases include Khe Sanh, the Rockpile, Cam Lo, Dong Ha, Con Thien and Gio Linh. 

January 8, 1967
America forces begin Operation Cedar Falls, which is intended to drive Vietcong forces from the Iron Triangle, a 60 square mile area lying between the Saigon River and Route 13. Nearly 16,000 American troops and 14,000 soldiers of the South Vietnamese Army move into the Iron Triangle, but they encounter no major resistance. Huge quantities of enemy supplies are captured. Over 19 days, 72 Americans are killed, victims mostly of snipers emerging from concealed tunnels and booby traps. Seven hundred and twenty Vietcong are killed.

February 21, 1967
In one of the largest air-mobile assaults ever, 240 helicopters sweep over Tay Ninh province, beginning Operation Junction City. The goal of Junction City is to destroy Vietcong bases and the Vietcong military headquarters for South Vietnam, all of which are located in War Zone C, north of Saigon. Some 30,000 U.S. troops take part in the mission, joined by 5,000 men of the South Vietnamese Army. After 72 days, Junction City ends. American forces succeed in capturing large quantities of stores, equipment and weapons, but there are no large, decisive battles.
Junction City was one of the largest helicopter assaults ever staged

April 24, 1967
American attacks on North Vietnam's airfields begin. The attacks inflict heavy damage on runways and installations. By the end of the year, all but one of the North's Mig bases has been hit. 

May 1967
Desperate air battles rage in the skies over Hanoi and Haiphong. America air forces shoot down 26 North Vietnamese jets, decreasing the North's pilot strength by half.

Late May 1967
In the Central Highlands of South Vietnam, Americans intercept North Vietnamese Army units moving in from Cambodia. Nine days of continuous battles leave hundreds of North Vietnamese soldiers dead.

United States South Korea Australia New ZealandThailand
Allies 1967
4,124 killed
19,295 wounded
604 missing

During the fall of 1967, the question of whether the U.S. strategy of attrition was working in South Vietnam weighed heavily on the minds of the American public and the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson. 
General William C. Westmoreland the commander of the 
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) believed that if a "crossover point" could be reached by which the number of communist troops killed or captured during military operations exceeded those recruited or replaced, the Americans would win the war.

In my first year of college (Aug 1967 to June 1968) I was working at a gas station as well as going to school, as I had no money for my second year. When we started at UMaine, the 400 of us (in the engineering group) were told to look at our left and to our right, neither of them will be there at graduation in 4 years. They were right, only 200 of us graduated, the course was that grueling. 

We heard many reports of the war and I was very glad I did not have to go. We heard that pilots had a one month life expectancy in the war. 

April 8, 1968
U.S. forces in Operation Pegasus finally retake Route 9, ending the siege of Khe Sanh. A 77 day battle, Khe Sanh had been the biggest single battle of the Vietnam War to that point. The official assessment of the North Vietnamese Army dead is just over 1,600 killed, with two divisions all but annihilated. But thousands more were probably killed by American bombing. 

June 1968
With strong, highly mobile American forces now in the area, and the base no longer needed for defense, General Westmoreland approves the abandonment and demolition of Khe Sanh.

All summer I had worked to try to earn enough for my next year. I worked the night shift at a hardware supply, continuing into the school year.
In the fall of 1968 I started my second year. My guidance counselor told me that my objective of becoming a civil engineer was not wise, I should become an electrical engineer. So I started in on the electrical engineering program. I was not happy with that choice. Working nights and attending school during the days was rough.

November 1, 1968
After three-and-a-half years, Operation Rolling Thunder comes to an end. In total, the campaign had cost more than 900 American aircraft. Eight hundred and eighteen pilots are dead or missing, and hundreds are in captivity. Nearly 120 Vietnamese planes have been destroyed in air combat or accidents, or by friendly fire. According to U.S. estimates, 182,000 North Vietnamese civilians have been killed. Twenty thousand Chinese support personnel also have been casualties of the bombing.

June 1969 I went to work at a farm/machine shop. There I learned how to weld, cut steel, disassemble engines down to the block, rebuild engines including new piston sleeves up to getting it running, build farm equipment, and general mechanical work.

In August 1969 I went back to school, I changed my major back to civil engineering. I was off course because I had missed a couple of courses needed for civil engineering while I was taking the electrical courses. I was still working nights, working from 6PM to 2AM as well as going to school. I was 6' 2" and 175 pounds. Always hungry, but determined to get my degree.


January 1969
President Richard M. Nixon takes office as the new President of the United States. With regard to Vietnam, he promises to achieve "Peace With Honor." His aim is to negotiate a settlement that will allow the half million U.S. troops in Vietnam to be withdrawn, while still allowing South Vietnam to survive.

February 1969
In spite of government restrictions, President Nixon authorizes Operation Menu, the bombing of North Vietnamese and Vietcong bases within Cambodia. Over the following four years, U.S. forces will drop more than a half million tons of bombs on Cambodia.

On December 1, 1969, the Selective Service System of the United States conducted two lotteries to determine the order of call to military service in the Vietnam War for men born from 1944 to 1950.

My lottery number was 19. All men with lottery numbers of 1 to 200 were drafted. I had my deferment and was spared, for now. 
In June 1970 I married Norma Jean. We purchased a tent to live in, and went to live in a Vermont campground in the woods. I went to work for her brother in law, an engineer in Essex Junction.
In August 1970 we purchased a 100 year old house in Old Town, I went back to school and was working nights rebuilding the house. 

Estimates for the number of North Vietnamese civilian deaths resulting from US bombing range from 50,00065,000. Although information is sparse, American bombing in Cambodia is estimated to have killed between 40,000 and 150,000 civilians and combatants.

18.2 million gallons of Agent Orange (Dioxin) was sprayed by the U.S. military over more than 10% of Southern Vietnam, as part of the U.S. herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. Vietnam's government claimed that 400,000 people were killed or maimed as a result of after effects, and that 500,000 children were born with birth defects.

In June 1971 we went back to live in the Vermont campground in the woods. I again went to work for her brother in law, the engineer in Essex Junction. That only lasted a month however.
I was supposed to have graduated, but I had been unable to get every required course. I was short one course. I wrote a letter to my draft board with a request to extend my deferment so that I could take the missing course. 
The draft board was made up of nine members of the community. When a request for extension was received, the members voted on the request. If a majority voted to deny the request, the applicant could go to the Senator of the State to appeal. If all nine members voted no, the applicant had to appeal to the President. When they took up my request, they voted nine to nothing to deny. I was a poor boy from the farm in northern Maine. There was no hope of going to the PRESIDENT!

There were 8,744,000 servicemembers between 1964 and 1975, of whom 3,403,000 were deployed to Southeast Asia. From a pool of approximately 27 million, the draft raised 2,215,000 men for military service (in the United States, South Vietnam, West Germany, and elsewhere) during the Vietnam War era. 

July 1971
As I felt that I was about to be drafted I went to the Air Force enlistment office. I asked that if I got drafted, could I enlist and become a pilot. The recruitment officer gave me the bad news:
a) At that time many pilots were returning from Viet Nam.
b) The Air Force no longer needed pilots and it would take 3 months to be accepted anyway, I would be in Vietnam by that time, he said.
c) The applicants had to take a written test before being accepted into the Air Force.
d) The score on the test was originally 75 to pass, now it had changed to 95.
e) No one from the State of Maine had ever gotten a 95. I asked if I could take the test anyway.
f) Two days later the officer called me. "You have horrible grades at the University, so how did you score 99 on our exam? You need to go to New Hampshire to take a physical."
g) I drove to New Hampshire. Physicals were in an airplane hanger. I went through the sections for ears, eyes, etc, I was told that I had eight cavities (I never had gone to the dentist, neither my father nor I had the money) and I would have to have them repaired before the Air Force would accept me. 
h) I was sitting in a large area with about 30 other guys awaiting our directions. Up to the side three guys in uniform came out a door and started down stairs. They were followed by a guy with "scrambled eggs" all over his uniform and cap. Then three more men. Scrambled eggs came to me and told me to stand up.
i) "You have been selected as the Air Force inductee of the year. Congratulations. You can select whatever you want to do in the Air Force." He and his entourage then left.

I went home. The recruitment office called. I was to come down NOW. I asked - what happened to the three month delay? That has been waived for you, you are the selected person. You need to come down now. You will be able to do whatever you want to do.

I was not happy with what was happening in Nam. I really did not want to be in the military. My father had been in the Navy in WWII and again in the Korean conflict and he as fine with me going. My brother-in-law, however, had gone to Viet Nam. When he came back, he was shell shocked. The speed limit on the highway was 70 mph. He could only drive 45. I did not want to go.

I was called several times by the recruitment officer, but I put him off, telling him that I would only go if I got my enlistment papers.
The papers did not come.
I did not send out any query, I just kept my head down. I held four part time jobs to keep up. At one point I was down to $5 total, I was accepted as a Taxi driver and made $1 an hour there. I was working as a clerk also making $1 an hour. I was working at the airport - on call. When a plane was coming in and it was 20 below and the wind was blowing and the crew called in sick, I could work and get $3 an hour!

In August 1971 I went back to school, still keeping my fingers crossed, and still working nights.
Just before Thanksgiving Melvin Laird came on all three channels of the TV and said that there will be no more draft over the holidays. Whew, I was safe for now, my class would be completed and I would get my degree in January. Then Melvin Laird came on TV and said that there would be no more draft.

March 15, 1972 I took my degree, drove to Florida and, got a job as an engineer. I was very lucky, only 20% of my graduating class got "engineering related" jobs. I was finally able to get food (I was seriously underweight) and gained 75 pounds. I also got to go the dentist.

Vietnam claimed many lives, but it was over before I would have completed any training. I always wonder what my life would have been like if I had taken the Air Force offer.