266

 

266

Close, that line that none can see
beneath the river,
from one great lake to another.

Years of watching the toll of war
play out on the television.
Hundreds of thousands lost – ours.
Theirs – more than a million.

Protests on campus and city streets
over lives lost to capitalist hunger.
Children lost when guns are placed
in the hands of children.

Years of watching, waiting
for my number to be drawn,
gazing across the river to Canada,
neighbor and refuge in time of war.

Relief when my number is drawn.
Thankful for a border
that would have provided safe haven.

This poem is my response to Poetics – War Poetry, the prompt from Björn at dVerse ~ Poets Pub, which is to write a poem referencing war.

Through all of my teenage years, reports from war correspondents during the Viet Nam War ran nightly on television, as did reports of protests in the streets and on college campuses across the country by peace activists and others protesting the loss of lives on both sides of the war. My number was drawn in 1972, the last year of the draft lottery in the US. Living near Buffalo, NY, on the border with Canada, I always considered going to Canada as an alternative to reporting for induction into the service. At the time, troop deployments were decreasing, and my draft number was high – 266 – and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Image
The Peace Bridge, between Buffalo, New York & Fort Erie, Ontario
built in 1927 to celebrate the long-standing peace between two nations

 

54 thoughts on “266

  1. I spent 12 months in the military as a young man (everyone did) but we never went to war which was a difference. You could volunteer for UN-service but that was never on my mind. Good that you never had to go to Canada, I remember some people coming to Sweden to escape being drafted…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had forgotten about Sweden as an alternative.
      Back then, “draft dodgers” were disparaged & ridiculed. Time has been more kind to them, with the acknowledgement of their principles regarding an unjust war.

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  2. I had a different plan. I keep it to myself, but when I finally had to put it into effect, it worked out OK for me. Now, I’m just another Old Guy with a story to tell (if you get me drunk/high enough). And I never had to kill anyone, so….win/win, eh?

    Liked by 4 people

    • I knew two guys (my age) who were brothers-in-law, both drafted. One spent all of his time in a motor pool in Germany. The other one went to Nam, and had the physical scars to show for it.
      My best friend is someone I met in my 30s. When he talks about that time, all he will talk about is his training. Any tales of combat are related to the accounts of others. I’ve never pressed him, so I don’t know about the rest of his service, but I assume he keeps that time to himself for a reason. At least I can say that he has never seemed like a troubled man.

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  3. My ex- enlisted in the VietNam war/conflict to have some choice before he was drafted. He saw no active combat duty thank goodness. An uncle did 3 tours and never talked about it but my mom said he came back a changed man. Drank like a demon until the end. God was good to you in keeping you out of that mess, Ken.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I guess my brother from college in the mid-1960s? He went to Antioch. I remember my parents laughing about the graduation dress code that said the students had to wear shoes. 😏 He’s always been politically active, so I’m sure he was involved in protests.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This is so moving! It’s a good thing that you never had to go to Canada, especially resonate with; “Children lost when guns are placed in the hands of children.” Yes 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Has to have been stressful having the when/if hanging over you. Over so many young men. Glad it worked out for you, that you’re around to reflect on those times. Having lived through that era, I am more tolerant of the current COVID crisis interruptions than some younger who did not experience Vietnam. Though in a way, we are all waiting for our number to be called … on the diseased list, on the vaccination list …

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great write Ken. I was 292. That night I renounced my Army Reserve Officer Training, and quietly shredded my original draft card, claiming to have lost it. Felt good, because I did not, in good conscience, agree with that costly, unfortunate war. Our family had great friends in Ontario who had early on, extended a permanent invitation — if I so chose. Don’t know what I would have done. Maybe become a 2nd Leui in Nam? Glad I never had to choose.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m also glad you never had to choose, Rob.
      I have no Idea what happened to my card. Now, it seems like it would be something to serve as a reminder of how crazy those times were, but If I decided back then to chuck it, well all I can say is THAT is the reminder of how crazy those times were.

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  7. I can’t imagine how stressful it would be to have a draft during those days and have a war like VietNam. I was born in ’75 so only heard the stories of those that lived through it. My husband went to Kuwait and Iraq for a while and has some stories, but wasn’t infantry and luckily was safe. I did learn during that time how hard war is on separated families. It changes so much. 💔

    Liked by 1 person

    • That separation does change so much, as does the effect of war on an individual. I have total respect for those who serve. My problem lies in the reliance on a draft for wars in remote places that don’t have have any direct impact on life in this country. I do understand that some policies are, ostensibly, to serve to protect our interests, (not that I necessarily agree with those decisions), so please express my thanks to your husband for his service.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. In the early seventies, I met an American in Germany, who had managed to get out of the draft lottery by living abroad. He was not keen on going home until he was sure he wouldn’t be called up. At the same time, some of my German friends had been called up, but they had the choice between the army or doing civilian duty, although one or two moved as far abroad as possible to avoid it, to India. I remember protesting too.As Jazz said, we are all waiting for our number to be called.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think those comments are more in reaction to having to, in effect, go into exile.
      And thank you for that compliment, Jane. Who knows who I would be, now, if I had, then? I’m glad I don’t know the answer to that question.

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    • I did not. As real as it was, it still seemed a world away when I was in high school.

      There were already troop drawdowns by the time I entered the University of Buffalo in the fall of 1971, so it was a fairly quiet campus, although it was a hotbed of protest in the 1960s — riots, police and teargas in March 1970, two months before the Kent State massacre.

      My uncle worked at the heating plant on campus, and he told me how the police used the tunnels for the heat lines to all of the buildings as access around campus during the riots.
      http://www.bpdthenandnow.com/1970UBPROTESTS.html

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, what a good plan, great poem! I still remember a new handsome high school teacher for my history class, so-called draft dodger from the States and he was very open about it. I agree with so many comments above, that wait for the draft must have been so stressful, glad you made it past!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lynne. I had a history teacher in ninth grade (that would have been ’67-’68) who focused a segment of his course on the war. He made a point of being objective (likely to protect his career), but he didn’t pull any punches. I always had respect for him.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This hits very close to home. My husband of 51 years in just a few days….his number was drawn and it was a very low number. No choice. He returned home to Chicago and went through the physical to be drafted into the Viet Nam War. He was about to graduate from college. He’d filled out application papers to a university in Canada and two in the US. We would go to Canada. Our choice was clear. In Chicago, it was like a cattle call….moving the young men through the lines, dr to dr, area of examination to area of examination. He has a bad back….still does. The best birthday give I ever received was his phone call that he’d legitimately flunked the physical exam. I remember those days too well. I also remember the lack of respect, the lack of honor, that young men received who came home from that war. That was as much a stain on our country as was our participation in that war…in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. My father was Viet, and became an instructor of the language at the DLI in Monterey, which is where I was born. He was in the VAF and came to the US in the mid-50’s, where he met my mother, a 2nd Lt in the USAF (she had put herself thru college via ROTC.) They each exited their respective military branch with her becoming pregnant with my eldest sister. I was in 6th grade when Saigon fell, and streams of refugees came through our house; before then, my parents would have bbq’s for his departing students before they left for the theater. What a word for the house of war – theater. All 3 of mom’s brother’s served, 1 in Germany, 1 in a boat off VN, and the other dropping bombs on the countrymen of his brother-in-law, as did my ex-wife’s father. As a half-breed child, my allegiances were questioned by the other children, who I suppose parroted their parents words. I learned that war has more participants than those with guns in their hands. ~

    Liked by 1 person

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