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Why I Was in the Navy During the Vietnam War

Updated on July 6, 2019
Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul served in the U.S. Navy from 1967-1971. He was stationed in Illinois, California, Texas, and on bases in Taiwan, Japan, and Maryland.

American Soldiers in the Vietnam War


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.

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 a 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, Elkhorn, 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.

Notifying My Draft Board about Graduate School Acceptance


Vietnam War Protestors 1967-1972

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 roommates, 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 16, 1967, so I went back to Ann Arbor to continue my studies.

On February 15 I departed Ann Arbor by bus and traveled 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 Navy recruit basic 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 article.

Notice to Report for Navy Reserve Induction


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?

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© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn


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    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Kathleen, thanks for reading and sharing your experiences related to the draft. I was tempted to stay in the Navy for another tour, but really didn't like having to shine my shoes every day and pass personnel and barracks inspections. The travel and training was great, however.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I remember those days as I had a brother who was draft-eligible, but drew a high number. His range of emotions were similar to yours. My husband also drew a high number but was already headed to West Point by the end of the draft, then Vietnam ended during his junior year. His 20 years of service were primarily during peace-time when we had a large, well-equipped military. After 13 years of non-stop war you'd think someone would notice the connection. Thank you for your service.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Thanks for reading and commenting on this about my youth. It certainly was a turbulent time after I graduated from college. Thanks for the votes and sharing this hub.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      6 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

      Interesting read, Paul and life is full of twists and turns we are not aware of.

      Voted up and interesting. Shared as well.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I really would like to share this with anyone interested in this turbulent time of my life.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      LOL You should share that story! :)

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thanks for reading and the comments, Denise. You know, when I joined the Navy, I couldn't swim either. That ordeal would be a hub in itself.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Loved the recount, Paul. It brought back so many memories of friends, family members and my late husband's experience being recruited.

      Although I had to older brothers my eldest brother was a pacifist and registered as a CO (he had attended a seminar in Ohio throughout his high school years); my second oldest brother, Michael, was the first to join the navy out of h.s. and toured Nam and the Pacific. I'm still in touch with his buddy who is living in CA. My sister (younger than me)joined about two years after being out of h.s. and feeling her life was a dead end factory job. I've got tons of Uncles and cousins who also served in the Navy.

      Then, I met my second husband after my divorce and he told me the story of how he got his draft notice and didn't want to take the chance of being drafted into the army so he joined the Navy even though he didn't know how to swim at the time...needless to say, he did learn!

      Thanks for the walk down memory lane.


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