Why I Was in The Navy During The Vietnam War
Wounded US Marine at Hue, South Vietnam in 1968
Being in The U.S. Navy
Joining the U.S. Navy introduced me to the real world and literally changed my direction in life. When I was in my last year of college, military service was the last thing on my mind. Little did I realize at that time that within two years I would be beginning navy recruit basic training. In this article I explain my motives for going into the U.S. Navy in 1967.
Insignia of The Selective Service System
Vietnam War Protestors at the Pentagon in 1967
Vietnam War Protestors 1967-1972
Why I Enlisted in The U.S. Military
I guess you would call it not wanting to face reality or being very naïve. When I was a college senior during 1965-1966, I was so sure of getting admitted into medical school that I didn't take a draft exemption test which many of my senior classmates were taking. At that time, the U.S. still had a draft, and young men aged 18 without exemptions were liable for conscription into the U.S. Army. It was a scary thought about going into the Army, because the Vietnam War was escalating and most of the soldiers being sent for combat in South Vietnamese jungles were young draftees.
In June of 1966 I took a pre-induction physical exam at the Selective Service System Center in my home county in Wisconsin. Still, I had pipe dreams about avoiding military service, even though I had not been accepted into any medical schools. I had, however, been accepted into the University of Michigan for graduate work in chemistry.
After starting my graduate work in Ann Arbor in August, I vividly remember receiving my military induction notice in November of 1966. It was enclosed in a letter from my mother. First, I read the letter from ma which began by saying, "Paulie, I hate to be sending you bad news." Next, I opened the induction notice which began, "Greetings from the President of the United States. You are ordered to report for active military duty with the U.S. Army ........." The rest of the induction notice briefly stated that I was to report to a certain Army base for basic military training about one week before Christmas. After reading the notice, reality hit home, and it was like being punched in the mouth.
My first reaction was to get drunk and drown my fear. I then called some people on campus who advised students like me with draft induction notices. I recall one young lady telling me point blank that I should dodge the draft by fleeing to Canada. After briefly considering it, I decided it would be a slap in the face to my uncles who served so proudly in the Army during World War II and The Korean War. I also wasn't too keen on being a fugitive from justice.
The soundest advice I got that evening was to go to a certain office on campus and have it file a 1-S student deferment request with the Selective Service System until I finished my school year in May of 1967. I did this the following day, and then started to consider which branch of the service I would join after my deferment expired in May.
Enlisting in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War
Why did many young men enlist in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War?
Why I Chose The U.S. Navy for Enlistment
Since I was doing graduate work in chemistry, I initially thought about enlisting in the Army and going into the Chemical Corps as an officer after completing Officer Candidate School (OCS). I went to an Army recruiter in Ann Arbor, and he transported me to the Fort Wayne Army Base in Detroit for induction processing. Right before signing the final papers to join, I called the whole enlistment off to the chagrin of the Army recruiter. Why? The night before I had been quartered in a barracks with other prospective Army enlistees. I couldn't sleep at all that night after hearing the joke about the life expectancy of a second lieutenant in Vietnam being 20 seconds!! I decided at that point it would be suicide for me to enlist in the Army.
After returning to campus and talking to my room mates, someone suggested that joining the Navy wasn't too bad based on the experiences of his friend. I thought it over, and then made a final decision to enlist in the Navy. I figured that the basic training would be easier than the Army or Air Force, and that my chances of being sent to Vietnam would be the least while in the Navy.
How I Enlisted in The Navy
During my Christmas vacation in 1966, I returned to my home in Wisconsin and visited a Navy recruiter in Racine. After telling the recruiter that I wanted to enlist as a non-officer, he informed me that I would have to get on a waiting list and enlist first in the Navy Reserves. As a reservist, I would be able to get into a program where I would report for four years of active duty 120 days after being sworn into the service as a reservist. The earliest date I could enlist in the Navy Reserves was February 15, 1967, so I went back to Ann Arbor to continue my studies.
On February 14 I departed Ann Arbor by bus and travelled to Milwaukee where I would enlist the next morning. It seemed like the trip was made during the coldest day of the winter. After spending a night in the YMCA, I signed my enlistment papers and was now only 120 days from beginning basic navy recruit training.
On June 15 I would be leaving the academic world and embarking on a new journey which would change my outlook on life. My navy recruit basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago will be detailed in a future hub.
Other Hubs Related to My Navy Experience
- U.S. Navy Memories Part Two: My Taiwan Duty Assignment November 1968 - August 1969
My Taiwan duty assignment during the period November 1968 until August 1969 was an exciting time in my life. It gave me an opportunity to visit an exotic land and meet a lot of interesting people.
- U.S. Navy Memories Part One: June 1967 - October 1968
I was in the U.S. Navy for almost four years during the late 60s. In this hub, I recall my basic training at Great Lakes and then specialized training at Monterey, California and San Angelo, Texas.
© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn