God some­times takes care of fools

The Covington News - - Legals - T. Pat Ca­vanaugh Gen­eral Man­ager

In the news re­cently we learned that we are about to draw down troops in Iraq and send them to Afghanistan. I think I read that 8,000 troops are in­volved. Ac­cord­ing to the mil­i­tary, this will not be enough for us to win that war. I be­gan to think that a dis­cus­sion of bring­ing back the draft will soon be on the ta­ble. It has made me think of events that hap­pened to me many years ago when the draft was im­ple­mented.

I was 12 years old and just out of school for the sum­mer in 1960 when I slipped on an oys­ter­shell-filled hill­side un­der a lawnmower stuck on an ex­tended root. In the process I pro­ceeded to man­gle a few of the toes on my left foot. In 1960, they didn’t have the tech­nol­ogy to re­pair limbs like the do to­day, so I spent three months in the hospi­tal while they tried to save my toes. Dur­ing that time, I be­came the fat­test, most spoiled kid in An­napo­lis.

One day when I was feel­ing sorry for my­self, a nurse told me that I may some­day find out that be­cause I lost my toes, “that God some­times takes care of fools.” Au­gust came, and there was no progress, so off with the toes.

Dur­ing that time, the Viet­nam con­flict was just ratcheting up and a draft was in ef­fect. But I was only 12 and was more con­cerned about Dick Clark mov­ing from Philadel­phia to Cal­i­for­nia and the Wash­ing­ton Se­na­tors winning a ball game than I was about a place called Viet­nam.

If you were a teenage boy in Mary­land in those days, you wanted to go down to the draft board and reg­is­ter on time be­cause without a draft card you couldn’t get served beer in Wash­ing­ton D.C., which then had a drink­ing age of 18. So the day I turned 18, at the crack of dawn I was stand­ing in line to get my cov­eted draft card. Be­cause my toes were miss­ing, I was classified as 1-Y, which meant I wouldn’t be called up for any­thing un­less there was a na­tional emer­gency of some sort.

In 1965, I was work­ing full­time at the pa­per, had just grad­u­ated from high school and was just start­ing to be liked by girls. I also had moved out of the coun­try­side and in with my grand­mother in the big city. Ev­ery­thing was go­ing just fine un­til the fall of my 19th year.

I re­ceived a sur­prise note from the draft board say­ing I was now re­clas­si­fied as a 1-S and that I was to take a bus trip up to Bal­ti­more to take the dreaded phys­i­cal that could end up in me dressed in olive green or navy blue.

So bright and early one fall day, off I went.When we got to Ft. Hol­lan­berg in Bal­ti­more, they loaded us like cat­tle into a gym-like struc­ture where a sergeant shoved pa­pers in our hands and pro­ceeded to tell us what the rest of the day was go­ing to be like. He also gave us a brown lunch bag that con­tained one ap­ple and a ham and cheese sand­wich on dried bread, no dress­ing, and a moon pie.

I looked at my pa­pers in dis­be­lief. Th­ese were pa­pers that said I was un­em­ployed, de­sired to go into the mil­i­tary as a ca­reer, etc. It was my sig­na­ture, but I didn’t do it. I tried to raise my hand to in­form the sergeant I didn’t per­son­ally fill out th­ese pa­pers and some­how a mis­take had been made. I didn’t re­al­ize as I sat there in shock read­ing my pa­pers that he had just told ev­ery­body that no ex­cuse was go­ing to work to­day.

The next thing I knew, 12 neat rows of us stood stark naked be­ing touched, looked at and abused by at least eight doc­tors. Trust me, this was not a very pretty sight.

Be­ing a very naïve per­son at the time, I couldn’t be­lieve the dif­fer­ent tech­niques some of my fel­lows had tried in or­der to fail their phys­i­cal. Bril­liant plans in­cluded stick­ing soap in pri­vate places, stay- ing up for days on end and drink­ing cof­fee for three solid days. It took the very last doc­tor to re­al­ize I had toes miss­ing; he looked at me like I was a leper and im­me­di­ately sent me to the base psy­chi­a­trist. The first ques­tion he asked was, “Why did you cut off your toes, was it be­cause you wouldn’t have to serve your coun­try?” While I was try­ing to tell him that at age 12 serv­ing my coun­try wasn’t re­ally on my mind — and in fact I was about to tell him my whole life story — he looked at me over his glasses stamped my pa­pers with a big red stamp that said UN­FIT and snarled at me that I was through for the day. Good, I thought to my­self. This gov­ern­ment is on the ball af­ter all.

As I walked down the hall with a huge smile, two big sergeants were tak­ing blood. I tried to tell them I was UN­FIT. They told me to get my big fat youknow-what over there and give blood. I was sen­si­tive about my rear end, but I had learned my les­son on ques­tion­ing sergeants. So, I gave my blood, and UN­FIT or not I was part of the pro­gram the rest of the day. We soon had to take our writ­ten tests. I guess the tests were to de­ter­mine if we were go­ing to run the Pen­tagon or be one of the san­i­ta­tion en­gi­neers. Again, a sergeant in­formed us every­one would pass this test, so don’t try to fail it. There were some tough math ques­tions though: for in­stance, Farmer Brown had two ap­ples, he ate one, how many did he have left? The test in­cluded some good logic ques­tions too, like if a chicken crossed a busy in­ter­state high­way dur­ing rush hour, was his chance of sur­vival (a) Good or (b) Bad.

At the end of the day, they loaded us back into the gym and started culling those who didn’t pass the phys­i­cal and who didn’t pass the writ­ten test that no one could fail. I think they kept some of those folks to work with them. I ac­tu­ally didn’t see some of that group who stayed ever again.

They sent me to a so­cial worker who was sup­posed to help me find a job since my pa­pers said I didn’t have one. I looked at my pa­pers again while I was in line. I fi­nally fig­ured out my mom had filled them out. My mom never thought the news­pa­per busi­ness was ever go­ing to be a good ca­reer choice for me. Some­times I have to won­der if she wasn’t half right. We never talk about her fill­ing out those pa­pers, even to this day.

As I stood in line for the so­cial worker, my bus was get­ting ready to leave for home. I just left the line and got on it. I reckon I be­came 4-F be­cause I never heard from the draft board again.

On the way home, guys were talk­ing about go­ing to Viet­nam. They were scared. I ac­tu­ally was feel­ing kind of low. I felt I was let­ting my coun­try down. I silently cursed the sum­mer of my 12th year. I was sit­ting with my friend Mickey. It turned out he had a per­fo­rated eardrum and they wouldn’t take him ei­ther.He was feel­ing the same way I was.

When we ar­rived back home we be­gan walk­ing. It was a beau­ti­ful fall evening as we walked around Church Cir­cle in An­napo­lis. The birds were singing, the air was crisp and the moon was full. Soon I felt a lit­tle smile com­ing on and I asked Mick if he still felt as bad. He said he didn’t and off we went to D.C.

I re­gret never hav­ing been able to serve my coun­try. I lost a few of my friends in Viet­nam, and when I can, I go to visit the memo­rial wall in D.C. I find their names, I touch them and I cry like a baby.

I have noth­ing but re­spect for peo­ple who have served their county in any way. But, I am thank­ful to­day. I don’t miss my toes and I know now, God ap­par­ently re­ally does take care of fools.

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