As promised, within a few weeks, the induction notice from the draft board arrived in the mail. The brief letter came across as ominous and intimidating. The reality of my crazy decision slapped me as I read the following:
Selective Service System.
Order to report for induction:
From the President of the United States.
Greeting: You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States, and ordered to report to the Federal Building 17th floor assembly room on July 20, 1970, at 7:00 AM for forwarding to an Armed Forces induction station.
As ordered, I reported to the Federal building on time. I wondered if I would be the only boy present that morning or if there would be a few others as well. When arriving on the 17th floor, I was shocked at the number of kids wandering around the hallways. There were all kinds of guys, every shape, size, color, and nationality, way more than I expected. I looked around and thought to myself, “Wow, what am I doing here in this foreign place, so far away from my all-white suburban neighborhood?” Soon men with loud booming voices ordered silence as they directed us into a large assembly room where we listened to a lot of dire speeches, warnings, and instructions. Afterward, they broke us down into smaller groups and directed us to quietly stand in lines at the various stations that they had set up around the room. There was a lot of paperwork to fill out and a lot of interviews with different people who were taking notes as they asked all kinds of questions regarding all aspects of our lives.
At this point some of the guys were making futile attempts to persuade the interviewers that they should be exempt from the draft, and declared themselves unqualified or ineligible for service, claiming to have a medical or mental condition, a family hardship, or even having a religious or moral conscientious objection to the war. However, unless you were a high school or college student, the Selective Service was not very selective and didn’t want to hear it. Eventually, they escorted us out of the large room into smaller rooms for more processing, and near the end of the day, after all of the paperwork and meetings, they instructed us to strip down to our underwear! We soon found ourselves standing in line, waiting for our turn for the famous induction physical. The Doctors examined us to be sure that we were fit for service, and yes, it included the dreaded “turn your head and cough,” as well as the “drop ’em and- bend over” part of the exam.
I knew I was physically fit because I had always worked out and lifted weights in high school, plus that hard construction work had made me even fitter. But some of the other guys looked like they were pretty weak and out of shape, especially the skinny, long-haired hippies and the overweight guys. It didn’t seem to matter though; almost everyone passed the physical. But to my surprise, I failed the initial exam. All but a few of us were sworn in and put on buses to their next destination. I was held-over. The doctors wanted X-rays of my lower back when they learned that I had fractured three vertebrae at age 12. They gave me a voucher with instructions to stay in a downtown hotel overnight and then report back the next day for X-rays. I remember thinking to myself, “Could I seriously be this lucky?” I might get out of this after all and no longer have the draft hanging over my head.
I reported to the downtown hotel as instructed, which was a different and fascinating experience since I had never been to a hotel before. The place was big and fancy and intimidating. Most of the people there were all dressed up. The guests wore jackets and ties, the ladies were in dresses, and the employees wore fancy uniforms. I’m sure they must have wondered who was the lost looking kid wearing a tee-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes. I managed to register for a room and was happy to see that there was a desk phone on the nightstand next to the large bed. I immediately dialed Diane and explained to her what happened at the Federal building earlier in the day and that they told me to stay in the hotel. But I didn’t see any reason why I should. As long as I was back on time the next morning, how would they know where I stayed? I asked Diane if she would be able to borrow her Dad’s car and pick me up. She did. We left the city and drove back to our safety comfort neighborhood where Diane and I went out one more night and had one more chance to have fun together. Late that night, not knowing if military induction was going to occur the next day, or if I would be rejected and returning home, we said our sad goodbyes once again.
That was my first day in the Army, and already, I was away from where I was supposed to be. Once again, I found myself bucking authority, but I reasoned that I wouldn’t get into trouble since they didn’t officially swear me in yet. Right?
I reported back to the Federal building on time the next morning with my fingers crossed. There I found another large group of kids going through the same routine that I went through the day before. I bypassed all of the stations as they directed me to the medical exam room, where a doctor did another brief physical examination and took a few X-rays. It didn’t take long for them to determine that my physical condition was acceptable. I sat around much of the day, waiting for the rest of the group to finish all of their processing. Then we were told to raise our right hands and take an oath, swearing to defend our country and the constitution.
I, Robert Kuhn, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
Afterward, they immediately directed us to a couple of buses parked on the street right outside of the Federal building doors. I was officially in the Army and on my way to Fort Dix, New Jersey.