On August 5, 1971 the United States Selective Service Commission held a lottery to draft young men into the United States Army. Lucky me, this was the next to last draft call, the final call being the following year, occurring December 7, 1972. When I came home from work from the Detroit Edison Company the afternoon of that fateful August day my mother tearfully told me my number. Twelve! Starting with number 1, eligible young men would be sent a letter ordering them to report to an appropriate location to be inducted into the Army. Letters would continue to be mailed until the draft quota had been reached (or up to number 95 in that year's draft), but with a number as low as twelve I knew it was merely a matter of time until I received my notice. Indeed, I didn't have to wait long. Receiving the induction letter mid-December I was ordered to report April 24, 1972, almost 2 years after graduating high school.
I was far from happy about the government stealing the next two years of my life forcing me to serve in the armed forces. I was not, however, about to move to Canada even though such a safe destination was only about 20 miles due east of my house in Inkster, Michigan. No, I would go, do my duty, and get it over with. My older brother Jim had similarly been drafted a few years earlier, but he chose to join the Marines in order to avoid working inside a comparatively Mickey Mouse organization like the U. S. Army. In my case such a cure would certainly be worse than the disease but I had to admire his courage. I would report to the Detroit location as ordered and leave the comfortable life behind to which I had grown accustomed. I was bitter about it but I felt there was little I could do. No realistic options presented themselves.
I refer to the life I owned after graduating from Cherry Hill High School, in Inkster, in the late spring of 1970. I had come to be employed by the Detroit Edison Company, southeastern Michigan's electric utility. The morning I came home fired from a miserable job as a midnight shelf-stocker for a tiny local grocery, Danny's, a letter greeted me requesting my presence for an interview for a job with Edison. I would soon begin working on a land survey crew as a Rodman, basically the grunt of the crew, working on survey sites all over the thumb area of Michigan, mostly outdoors, occasionally in mosquito infested swamps, but every now and then inside some of Edison's power plants, including the nuclear plant in Monroe. They would pay very good wages, and I was to become quite adept at spending most of it, saving only a very small percentage. But I drove a new car, bought all the record albums I wanted, and as I was living at home I lacked for very little, no small thanks to the graciousness of my parents.
Of course as a normal young man I wouldn't give my folks the satisfaction of revealing such benevolent sentiment; indeed, I probably couldn't even recognize it in me at the time. Around the house I was not the most pleasant of their eight children, of which all but Jim still lived in that small bungalow on a hill on Colonial Drive in that western suburb of Detroit, of which I was third oldest. Too frequently my family would notice me moping around precariously balancing a chip on one or both shoulders. I had become a tad too introspective to notice most of our household, and I increasingly kept more to myself. I had dwelt too long on some of the social difficulties I encountered in high school which were exacerbated by a severe case of acne causing a certain amount of social withdrawal, ineptitude and embarrassment, amplifying an already debilitating shyness. But while occasionally making my family's life uncomfortable around home my time spent with my friends would expose a more outward, free spirited and hedonistic aspect of my personality. Basically they and I partied at every opportunity. While I didn't have a great deal of friends in most of my high school years, in the later years I was befriended by a most remarkable and congenial fellow that would bring me into his clique and make me feel more comfortable with myself. That was Michael (Bo) McCahill. By the time graduation came and went I was on my way to growing more comfortable with who I was. I sure had a long way to go but thanks to that group of friends I was at least on the road. I wish I had demonstrated some of that growth to my family before I left for those two years in the Army.
There was very little letter writing in my experience before I went away. That would soon change. After my years of slavery to the U. S. government I found that I had saved a whole pile of letters my family and friends had written to me. Until just a couple months ago (May of 2000) I had not read these notes and letters since they had originally been delivered to me in the service. I had been carting two shoe boxes filled with these letters from the time I came home in 1974, through many changes of address, after getting married and changing residences 7 or 8 more times. And now, 26 years to the month from the receipt of my last letter, I brought them out into the light of day and read them again as if for the first time. It was a remarkable experience, especially as I read those from my little sister who at the time was almost ten years old. The freshness and innocence was utterly delightful. It compelled me to read more and the more I read the more I felt these notes should not remain buried. Most of them were written by my mom and dad, as well as by my brothers and sisters. And some of my friends kept correspondence with me as well. Actually from a total of 231 letters I kept while a soldier 182 are from my family. The others are from a few friends, from high school and some made after graduation.
Once I started reading all of them in chronological order it became readily apparent that they told a compelling story. There are some fun things like the pet cat Marylou received that I didn't remember, but it eventually had to be given away because of Marylou's allergies. Or later, the new dog she got and how dad couldn't find her chow one morning so he fed her Rice Krispies. Or the letter mom sent written on a puzzle that was broken apart after composition to be reassembled for reading. The letters from my parents were notable in describing many of the events that shaped their lives in those tumultuous years of the early 70's. There were national issues such as the Arab-Israeli War and the Arab oil embargo from October 1973 to March 1974 (remember gas rationing?) that gave my parents grave concerns for my involvement and security as I was stationed in Germany during much of that time. There were personal issues confronting and also enjoyed by my family. Weddings, health issues threatening jobs and homes, and then there were my own troubles I eventually found I could hide no longer. The court martial that brought mom down to El Paso and the trial she had to sit through. It would be these that would stretch the fabric of my relationship with my parents to the tearing point. The more I continued reading these letters the story unfolded before me and it seemed those emotions were as palpable as when first experienced, having been buried for this quarter of a century. All told it made a compelling read almost as any novel would. I knew I had to transform them from handwriting to typesetting, from paper to computer, from past to present, and share them with my family to show how far we've come.
It didn't take long to go through all 231 letters, arrange them by date, and type them on a computer. My parents indicated they've enjoyed reading and reminiscing about those halcyon days after I sent them copies of some of the first that were penned. Just wait until they get to the part I was court martialed. But that was so long ago, and so long ago we have made our peace with those events and with each other and have grown from it. I hope my brothers and sisters can read these and enjoy the correspondence as I have.
Notes regarding the letters
Anything written inside brackets [ ] are my own editorial comments or notes. Regarding spelling and punctuation, I have tried to keep the original intact to maintain the flavor of reading the actual letter written to me. In some instances I have corrected spelling for the sake of clarity. I have left intact the original grammar except, again, for clarity's sake, in order to let each individual's personality shine through. That maintains a freshness that would be lost if all idiosyncrasies were "corrected" out. Part of the fun of reading someone's letters is to feel a certain turn of phrase or ponder a bit of imagery.
Have I saved every letter that was sent to me? My guess is that this work probably does contain the entire archive mailed to me; considering that if I saved even the most mundane of letters as the form-letter Christmas greeting by the Chairman of the Detroit Edison Company in whose employ I was before and after the service I don't imagine I have thrown away any notes from my family and friends.
I have extensively edited out vulgarity and profanity to make this readable by everyone. Those were days that sadly saw plenty of use of that language by me and my friends. Its use becomes very wearying and serves no profitable purpose and would certainly make the reading of these letters less enjoyable. I must mention also that I can make no excuse for who I was back then and the entire blame for my own character flaws and for my immersion into the six years of drug abuse lie squarely on my shoulders alone. Make no mistake, any drug and alcohol abuse is destructive and debilitating. But I myself am entirely responsible for who I was and the decisions I made. It may be personally embarrassing to recall my lifestyle from those days, but the individuals I called friends were people that treated me with respect and I tried to treat them likewise. They were my friends because I liked them, enjoyed their company and wanted them as friends. In spite of whatever lifestyle decisions I made back then these individual were a cause of some positive personal growth. And for that I owe them a debt of gratitude. I wish I had some contact with them now.
A Warning Regarding File Sizes: The Full Catalog of Letters page is about 451kb in size. It will load painfully slow on a normal 56k connection but easily with broadband. So I have taken this file and made four new parts, one for each Duty Station. This will give the same chronology in a little more manageable size. Dad's file is 224kb and Mom's file is 116kb.