How I Didn’t Go to Vietnam

My brother Rog and I lived in California in 1969 when he got drafted into the Army while I was going to junior college with a 2-S (student) deferment. The 2-S meant your military obligation was deferred (or put off) until you finished or dropped out of school. I stayed in school, but I felt torn because my father had served in WWII as a B-17 copilot and I believed Rog would soon be going to Vietnam–and shouldn’t I serve? I went to the Marine Corp recruiter in San Jose. I was 18, not very athletic, and I had been told the military would “make you a man”. My big problem was I felt volunteering for the military meant volunteering for killing someone, and my 18-year-old conscience said I couldn’t do that. I told the recruiter I wanted to apply for the Officer Candidate School. This meant I would stay in college and learn to be a Marine officer on weekends and in the summer. At graduation I would become a Marine Lieutenant on active duty for three years (as I recall). The recruiter gave me a bus ticket and off I went to Moffett Airfield (by San Francisco Bay) for physical fitness examination.

The room was a great old airplane hanger bigger than a football field and filled with a circle of 500 young men who had either enlisted or been drafted into military service. A doctor in the middle of the room called out “injuries”. For example, he yelled, “Anybody got a bad knee?” Hands would go up. A team of doctors went around the ring checking for “bad knees”. One man raised his hand every time for every “injury”. One man told me he drank a quart of soy sauce so his heart would pound. I passed every test except the vision test. When I returned to the recruiter the next day, he gave me the news. “You can’t quality for Officer Training, but I can still get you into the Corp as a soldier! You can enlist right now!” I said I hadn’t thought about that. I said I had only thought about Officer Candidate School and staying in school. He said, “I think you need somebody to make your decision for you! Give me ten pushups!” I did twenty, and left there in a hurry, feeling ashamed and sad. (In my old age I know I probably wouldn’t have survived very long as a Marine Corp lieutenant in Vietnam).

I moved to Nebraska to be close to my girlfriend. We both went to school at Dana College, a Lutheran college. I still felt very confused about whether I should enlist, or not. Now at the wise old age of 19, I made the brilliant decision to let fate make my decision. I wrote my draft board in San Jose and told them to take away my 2-S deferment and make me 1-A, the designation that meant you were eligible and ripe for military service. I finally got a notice back from my draft board saying I was no longer 2-S. I was now 4-D. I had to look that up on the list of designations. The 4-D signified I was a “divinity student” and therefore ineligible for the draft. I will never know how that happened and I took that as my answer that fate did not intend me as a soldier in this lifetime.

A short time later (I think it was early 1970) the Draft Lottery was televised and we watched in the student union TV lounge as our birthday dates were drawn out of a tumbler. Those who got low numbers (who would be the first to be drafted) turned away in shock and despair. My birthday, October 27th, got a high number (187??) and I was told I would no longer need to worry about the military draft. If I wanted military service I would have to voluntarily enlist. Then Rog returned from Vietnam in late 1970 and told me in no uncertain terms that he did not want me to go to Vietnam. And that’s how I ended up not going into service and not going to Vietnam.

And I will always feel second-best to those who went and those who served in Vietnam.

What Rog Told Me About Viet Nam

Roger full photo of military patches ribbons pinsNow I’ve given you all the Letters from Viet Nam from Rog, and I believe he wrote in a humorous style to hide the horror and terror of what he was doing. But there are other things I remember, things he told me. And right now it feels like two of the letters are missing (right before and after he got wounded) because I can remember things he wrote that I can no longer find on paper.

He wrote: Don’t believe what you read in the papers. We don’t fight for patriotism or democracy. We fight to keep alive, to protect our buddies–and we fight to get payback on our buddies who were killed. That’s why we fight.

He wrote: The wounded guys all look like zombies. Don’t come here, Phil. There is Clausen blood in this ground and one Clausen is enough for this war. Don’t come here.

I can’t remember if he said his machinegun was 50 or 60 caliber. He wrote: The door-gunner machine gun is so powerful I can chop down a tree with it. You can’t imagine what it does to a body.

After Rog died, his stepson Dave told me Rog used to scream in his sleep at night at home. Rog didn’t want to talk about it. But finally he told Dave, “I’m here at the shit plant (the water treatment plant in Palo Alto, CA). and the gooks are coming over wire, over the fence. The gooks are overrunning the plant and I can’t stop them. They’re coming….”

Philip Atlas Clausen is author of The Black Butterfly Woman, a Vietnam era novel about the war. Purchase now at https://goo.gl/MBDMU2 Available as softbound or e-book.