As I started college in late 1960, I just wasn’t prescient enough to see I also would enter the military. While the Vietnam War ended with a bang with the fall of Saigon in April 1975, it had started with a whimper in spring of 1961, just as I was finishing my freshman year at Yale. That was when President John Kennedy ordered 400 Green Beret Army soldiers to South Vietnam as “advisors.”

Then, in August 1964, after my Yale graduation and before starting law school at the University of Chicago, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This came in the wake of an apparent attack on the USS Maddox off Vietnam. It authorized the president to “take all necessary measures, including the use of armed force” against any aggressor in the Vietnam conflict. Shortly thereafter, in February 1965, President Lyndon Johnson ordered the bombing of North Vietnam, and the U.S. was in the War big time. I was just halfway through my first year of law school then.

In the Ross, Hardies law office
In the Ross, Hardies law office

After World War II, the draft structure to meet the country’s military needs had been left in place. Thus, it was ready to be employed in my era when volunteers no longer met the needs of the services. And indeed, the draft was increasingly relied upon as the U.S. deepened its involvement in Vietnam. But during the Vietnam War years between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. military drafted only 2.2 million men from a large pool of 27 million. With less than 10% of those eligible for the draft being called up, and the lottery mechanism to choose them not put in place until 1969, the question of who got drafted was left up before then to local draft boards and their use of an elaborate system of draft deferment categories.

Vietnam Draft StatisticsBeing in graduate school at the time automatically removed the risk I would be taken into the military involuntarily prior to my graduation. After graduation, I’d be single and only 25. Unless I married and had children promptly, there was then the real possibility that I would be drafted.

What to do? I had no desire to marry at that time, and a similar desire not to be killed in Vietnam War. This wasn’t an entirely irrational fear, as there ended up being more than 58,000 U.S. military fatalities in the Vietnam War. Though my personal odds of being cut down might have been small, the threat did loom large in my thinking. The off chance of catching an errant bullet in an inhospitable place far from home was simply not on my to do list.

On the other hand, both my father and brother had entered the military as volunteers. They both seemed proud to have stepped up in the service of their country. I also thought if I wasn’t killed, I might enjoy the military or at least gain valuable experience of some sort. Having watched my uncle Augustine Bowe enter public life and seem to enjoy it, I also thought Army service such as my father’s or Dick’s couldn’t hurt if I later wanted to pursue that path in some fashion.

In my third year of law school, I had unsuccessfully applied for a direct commission as an Army officer. As I had waited for that process to run its course, the Army Reserve and National Guard openings for enlisted men grew far and few between. In any event, those alternatives were not remotely appealing choices for me.

With all these military service options off the table for one reason or another, I graduated from law school in June 1967 at the age of 25 and started working downtown at a Chicago law firm. The firm represented the Northwestern Railroad and various gas and electric utilities. With fewer than 50 partners and associates, the mid-sized firm of Ross, Hardies, O’Keefe, Babcock, McDugald & Parsons had its offices at 122 South Michigan Avenue, just across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago.

The main military option that still seemed open to me other than the draft, was to enlist in the military in a way that might improve my odds of living long enough to get discharged, hopefully honorably. During law school I had bypassed living in Hyde Park near the University of Chicago to help my mother care for my father in his declining health. He had died halfway through my time in law school, so after graduation I left my then widowed mother and moved into the Hyde Park apartment of my college and law school friend Bob Nichols. I traveled to my new lawyering job on the Illinois Central commuter train from the its 56th Street Station in Hyde Park to the Van Buren Street Station by the Loop. That left me a short walk to the Ross, Hardies office. If I didn’t enlist in the military in the ensuing year and got drafted, likely into the Army’s infantry, I’d be out of the military in only two years. A big negative of the draft was that I be out even earlier if I was killed in Vietnam.

Of course, why didn’t I think of it sooner! Forget joining the military the way my father and Dick did. Instead of the Army or National Guard, join the Navy or Air Force. Or better yet, join the Army, Navy or Air Force as a lawyer. I was pretty sure none of those folks weren’t getting killed much in Vietnam. With a law degree and admission to the Illinois bar in hand, I could enter the Judge Advocate General branches as an officer, and gain directly pertinent experience for my chosen profession.

The unappealing part of this choice for me was the time commitment. With demand high to stay out of the infantry, these slots typically required a minimum four-year commitment. The other problem I had with being a military lawyer was the great danger I saw of being bored. The possibility of being assigned to spend several years of my life prosecuting AWOLs, processing routine property damage claims brought about by tanks taking too wide a turn, or otherwise spending my time in mind-numbing tasks, was completely abhorrent to me. Others who did enlist in the military as lawyers, like my college and law school classmate, C. David Anderson (USAFR), had a far from boring experience.

My solution to this quandary, six weeks before I turned 26, was to enlist for three years in the Amy Intelligence Branch on May 13, 1968. One of the first things I noticed once I had stepped out of civilian life was that I had stepped into a world of acronyms I never knew existed.