I Didn’t Have To Go To War

As I kid I was fascinated by my father’s military metals. He didn’t like them. So when I was 12 he gave them to me. I still have them in a Ziploc bag in my closet.

The Gulf War happened in 1991 during my senior year of high school. It was brief, but we didn’t know that when it began. People were afraid it would be protracted like Vietnam.

I got my first Selective Service card in the mail when I was 16. That was 1990. I ignored it because 18 was a long ways away. When the Gulf War began my father and grandfather sat down with me to discuss what I might face. A Vietnam vet and World War II vet, they were deeply concerned about what could happen if this thing in the Middle East didn’t end quickly.

My grandfather never even made it to high school. He saw combat in both Europe and Asia in the 1940s. My father avoided combat in Vietnam by volunteering to serve four years in the Navy. Volunteering gives you more options. The trade off is a longer term of service.

Volunteering may have meant no combat, but when the worst of the wounded were taken from Vietnam to Subic Bay in the Philippines, it was all hands on deck. That meant loading onto the ship men with no arms, no legs, no faces. My father told me that once (on land), an obviously malnourished child asked a serviceman for help, only to pull a knife. Another serviceman pull his weapon and fired. That man fell apart, unable to forgive himself.

I’ve been spared from the darker side of humanity. By the time my second Selective Service card arrived in early summer 1991 (shortly before my 18th birthday) the conflict with Saddam had ended.

That fall I went to college, which neither my father nor grandfather had the privilege of attending. Besides being born as an American in a stable family, going to college rather than war is my greatest privilege.

But my Selective Service number still comes in handy. I saved my card, as my father told me to. As a social worker I’ve had to provide my Selective Service number to prove I did my duty (which was as simple as signing my name). Otherwise, I’d be ineligible to work under a program funded by a federal grant.