The Bus Ride


In the spring of 1967 I was draft eligible.  Single, age 19, male, no dependents and no student or other strategic deferment.  SSS code “1A”.  Shortly before my 20th birthday I received the standard “greetings” letter from the Selective Service Commission.  The SSS organized the draft and executed the calling of recruits but the local draft board determined their eligibility for the call. Our draft board, made up of local political appointees was on the second floor of the Capital Theatre building on Main Street. Having spent many Saturday afternoons at the Capital watching westerns and 1950’s horror flicks, I knew the building well.  On the appointed date and time I walked to the Capital and presented myself.

On this bright spring day there were about forty of us–enough to fill a school bus. Kids from the several “valley” towns that this local board served, stood in a queue with their draft cards in hand while a civilian member of the board and a regular army sergeant, likely a reservist, verified our credentials and checked us off a list.  I took my seat next to some kid from Derby and road the twelve miles to New Haven’s Goffe Street Armory building in quiet contemplation. A few kids talked among themselves, some smoked but most just stared out the open windows.
The old State Armory building had a storied past. The current structure was built in 1928 but this spot was where Southern Connecticut men had assembled for every war as enlistees or draftees since the Civil War.  It was also home to the 2nd CT Governor’s Foot Guard which could trace its origins to the pre-revolutionary era in our state. There were other buses from other towns and counties in the Southern Connecticut region. The quiet lines left the busses, slinking their way through the portico of this granite fortress.  We peed and “aaahhed”, stripped and coughed for the men in white and finally had our blood drawn. Not surprisingly this was the most anxiously anticipated part of the exam as several of my colleagues fainted at the sight of the needles and blood.  Donnie stranding in front of me dropped unconscious to the floor with a thud. The medics picked him up, seated him in the drawing chair and revived him with smelling salts, then drew his blood. No comments or determinations were made on our fitness although some of us were detained shortly for questioning on matters of loyalty and citizenship. In less than an hour we were back on the bus heading back to Main Street Ansonia.

On the ride back, the soldier who had accompanied us on the trip to New Haven was replaced by a marine sergeant in full dress uniform. A hansom kid not much older than me, he stood up near the driver and faced his captive audience.  He had one arm, the sleeve on his right hand side, neatly folded, with stripes-out and pinned to his chest. He spent the next twenty minutes telling us about the Marine Corps. Its values, its loyalty to its members and our nation and how it had changed his life for the better.  He thanked us for our participation in the Selective Service process and went on to talk about the duty each citizen has in defending his country and the many options and benefits available in voluntary service. He spoke at length about his role in the Vietnam Conflict and how important it was for the USA to defeat Communism and keep the world safe for democracy. As we drove up Main Street, he ended with an emotional tribute to his fellow marines and the pride he felt in giving his arm in defense of the United States. I bolted from the bus and ran home.  I told my dad there was no fucking way I was joining any branch of the service and going to Viet Nam. Thank God he agreed. His high school buddy was chairman of the local draft board. I was saved by White Privilege.