1971 was the eighth year of US involvement in the conflict in Vietnam . The selective service lottery had been re-instituted in December 1969. The next lottery, held in 1970, applied only to men born in the year 1951; the lottery of 1971 covered men born in 1952; and the final lottery in 1972 applied to men born in 1953. 1972 was my year. The government had drafted up to number 175 and my draft number was 19. I was not interested in being drafted to fight in a foxhole. I had just graduated high school, and not having any deferment for physical or scholastic reasons, and 19 for a number, I was sure my chances of being in that foxhole were high. Three of my high school friends had enlisted in the Air Force, one of whom got a “guaranteed” enlistment as a draftsman, which I had studied to be. So, I enlisted. If I had waited, things may have been different, because men born in 1953 were not drafted due to abolition of the draft in 1973. I guess it didn’t matter; the die was already cast. On August 13, 1971, I reported to the induction center, received a physical and boarded a plane for Lackland AFB, San Antonio, TX to begin basic training.
I became an airman basic, a boot in the 3724 th BMTS (Basic Military Training Squadron). My instructor was SSgt. Lanphear and his assistant was SSgt. Lozano. Looking back now, it really was a cake-walk. When we went to the job assignment briefing, the sergeant behind the desk looked over his list and told me they didn’t need any draftsmen, so I was given 3 other choices based on my qualification tests. My choices were narrowed down to Engineering Entomologist, Security Police and what I finally decided on; Aircrew Life Support. We attended various classes, did physical training twice a day, and close order drill. We did KP (kitchen police) twice. It really wasn’t that bad. At the rifle range were set up to shoot the M-16. I qualified the first time as an expert. We never shot anything bigger and only shot that one time. After all, we were Air Force. We sent our officers to do the fighting. I finished basic training in mid-October. Life Support school was at Chanute AFB, near Rantoul, IL . My class ended on December 14 th . I was assigned to the 100 SRW base life support, Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ. I flew in to Tucson on December 24 th . I spent my first Christmas away from home in the barracks, trying to find my way around on a base that was shut down for the holidays.
The 100 th SRW (Strategic Reconnaissance Wing) was tasked with gathering intelligence. They flew the U-2 spy plane, the T-33 trainer, the C-130 Hercules to launch Firebee drones over North Vietnam , CH-3 helicopters to recover the drones and UH-1 Hueys to ferry personnel and supplies to the Titan II nuclear missile silos around Tucson . Davis-Monthan, the boneyard, is the prime storage area for military aircraft that are surplus or are just in need of temporary storage, with thousands of aircraft stored there. We removed survival equipment coming off the aircraft going into the boneyard, or loaded them when they returned to service. My typical shift was to check the flight schedule for incoming and outgoing flights, who the pilots were, and set aside any specific gear requested. Each crew would come in and have their helmet and mask communications tested as well as the O2 flow in the mask just before the flight.
I was out on the line one day, awaiting the return of a T-33. Over the radio I heard a commotion. The 333 rd TFS (Tactical Fighter Squadron) flew the A-7D Corsair 2 attack aircraft as ground support. The radio chatter said the 333 rd had interdicted a Cessna flying from Mexico into the US . Turned out to be a drug runner. The pilot ignored them when contacted. The A-7 pilot reported he had convinced the Cessna pilot to follow him and both planes landed. The Cessna was towed to the transient area and I went over for a look. What convinced the Cessna pilot to comply was a neat horizontal line of 5 holes that went down the right side of the fuselage. A Gatling gun is a very good persuader.
In March 1972, B-52 bombers were flying from Guam to bomb North Vietnam to bring the North Vietnamese to the bargaining table. On April 16, 1972, my unit went on alert. No calls were allowed in or out, everybody was restricted to base. We were told to load the C-130’s on the ramp for deployment. Sergeant Lockhart and I approached the first aircraft to load it up. As I climbed the boarding ladder, I heard this growling noise and lots of hollering. Lockhart was on his back on the ground, with a security police dog’s mouth around his neck. He had forgotten his line badge. Security was tight. How could he forget his line badge? He was escorted off the line. I finished the load out, picked him up and brought him to get the badge. Back at the shop, the word came that someone had to deploy to Guam for six months to support the Linebacker II offensive. It was supposed to be me. I avoided the draft by enlisting in the Air Force instead of the Army so I wouldn’t have to fight. I wanted the GI Bill benefits. I was supposed to get married soon. So I chickened out. I begged not to go. I used every excuse I could think of. I even broke down and cried. My NCOIC threw me out with a scowl on his face and lost all respect for me that day. But not as much as I lost in myself. The North Vietnamese never invaded or attacked Guam . I was safe, but I was a failure. I regret that I did not do my part. The alert ended 48 hours later.
I was Honorably Discharged in June, 1975. It’s been 37 years since then. I still wonder what would have happened if I had stayed in. I’ve had a good life. I’ve made a difference in other people’s lives as a Nurse. I’ve saved lives as well as seen them end, sometimes in peace, sometimes not. But I still think of the spring of 1972 and my disappointing behavior. I hope I’ve been able to make it up.