I graduated from law school in 1965, at the beginning of the build up of U.S. Involvement in Vietnam. I went immediately to the local Navy Recruiting Office and applied for Officer Candidate School. Where were they going to find a better applicant? I was a college graduate. A sailor. A champion navigator. A Coast Guard licensed operator.
Also, I reasoned that if I were going to war, I would rather fight in an environment where I was master. What did I know about jungles?
The Navy loved everything about me except for my weight. Yes, I've struggled with my weight all my life. I have the upper body of a man about six and a half feet tall atop short legs. Although I am 5'8” tall, my inseam is the same as my 4'11” wife. Seriously, people who meet me are surprised when I stand up. What does that have to do with my weight? Well, actually, nothing.
“Come back after you get down to 175 pounds,” they said. I did. I went to a doctor who was dispensing some “miracle medicine” and shed the excess weight in just three months. The doctor was sent to jail. The recruiter sent me to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., for my physical exam.
I was working as a Post Entitlement Adjudicator (don't you love that title?) at Social Security in Woodlawn, Maryland at the time, and Washington was just forty minutes down the road. Thus, it was not a problem when the recruiter called and asked if I could return to Walter Reed for another x-ray. It wasn't even a problem the second or third time. I became worried at the fourth request. Is something wrong? The recruiter wasn't sure.
Meanwhile, I received a notice from my draft board to report for a pre-induction physical. No problem. I was happy to accommodate them. I expected to be enlisted in the Navy long before I would be ordered to report for induction into the Army.
My application languished with the Navy as the induction date approached. I approached the Army Recruiters to explore my options there and found them eager to enlist me for Officer Candidate School. My education and my test scores on the Army Battery of Tests were outstanding. Still, I expected the Navy to come through well before I was forced to sign up with the Army.
My draft notice came and I was ordered to report for induction at 6:00 am on Monday, March 3, 1966. (No, I didn't have to refer to any record to get that date and time.) I had to enlist prior to close of business at 5:00 pm on the preceding Friday or report as ordered. Thus, at 4:15 that Friday, I borrowed a telephone and made my final call to the Navy from the recruiting office at Fort Holabird, Maryland. No word. I hung up and turned to the waiting officer and was sworn in.
I went back home with orders to report to Fort Holabird at 6:00 am Monday to join the draftees who were being taken to the Reception Center at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
The Navy called at 9:00 pm that Friday night. “Congratulations,” they said. “You're in.”
“No, I'm not,” I replied. “I'm in the Army now.”
“Well, you can apply for an inter-service transfer after you complete your enlistment in the Army,” they suggested.
Why did the Navy act with so little alacrity? It could have had something to do with the fact that the North Vietnamese only had a few assault boats, but it was enough to start a war.