During the Korean War, people in all walks of life — students, politicians, professors, doctors, engineers and all the local roustabouts, of which I was one — were rounded up and inducted into the Army. We were all just numbers on a clipboard. Talk to any draftee; he’ll tell you.
On a cold day in December, I was sitting at the kitchen table, having supper with my family. My brother-in-law was seated at the end of the table near the trash can. He casually leaned over and plucked something from the top of the trash. It was an unopened letter which he probably identified by its official appearance. He opened the letter and quietly read it while the rest of us were talking, laughing and eating.
Suddenly breaking into the lively conversation, looking across the table at me, he said, “This is a draft notice. You have to report to the draft board. That’s just three days from now.”
There was stone silence. Not believing him, I grabbed the letter. The draft notice was in big black letters. The first sentence, “Greetings, your friends and neighbors have selected you. . . .” The letter must have been lying around the house for days, but the mystery of it all was how it got into the trash can without being read. We decided that it was just an accident, and that was the end of it.
Having recently graduated from high school, I had no thoughts and absolutely no intentions of enlisting in the armed forces. There were no thoughts of any war. My only plans were my future, thoughts of entering into college and landing a good job. Having only three days to report to the draft board was a disaster; all my plans vanished in a puff of wind; my whole world unexpectedly and quickly had been turned upside down.
My head still was spinning when I arrived at the draft board. Several of my classmates were there, some of whom I had not seen since graduation. We were wearing, as instructed, unkempt clothes and shoes, something you’d see on a skid row. The reason for such instructions was that all clothing was to be shipped back home.
Some people’s facial expressions showed what they probably were thinking: “What an uncertain future was waiting for us.” There was only one thing for certain: We were not going on a hay ride.
At Fort George G. Mead in Maryland, we were herded into different areas. The first order was to strip down to our ankles for a health check; then, we took aptitude tests to be sorted out for different duties and assignments. Then there was the shipment to different parts of the country for training. Uncertainty loomed everywhere.
One sure thing: we all were on our way somewhere. I looked at my classmates with grim thoughts that maybe our homes will never be the same; maybe some of us wouldn’t return. But then, there were lively comments about excitement and adventure.
One evening, we were sitting around in a large room, drinking PX beer. Through all the whooping and laughing, some were listening to the popular song “Tennessee Waltz” by Patti Page. I heard that song at least 25 times in an hour. It brought on emotions that caused whimpering and groaning, and some were nearly crying. One was my classmate, a husky, burly football player whom I thought would never admit to being homesick.
I heard someone say, “If they would let me go, I would crawl all the way home on my belly.”
The only world I knew was growing up in school — studying, high-school activities, dating, having good times at school dances and going to games. This sudden, unexpected turn of events taught me lessons in dealing with problems. It introduced me to myself; it brought me into a world of reality, and it cast me into a very different world.
Bond lives in Richmond Hill.