Several years ago my wife, two children and I traveled from our home in Lynchburg, Virginia to visit with our parents and other family members in Cleveland, Ohio. I reminisced with aunts, uncles, and cousins I had not seen for years. One moonlit evening, my cousin Joe and I recalled the old days around a campfire in the back yard.
“Hey Josh, remember when you were drafted?” He asked, poking an ember with a stick.
I chuckled, lean forward in my wicker chair, and said. “Yeah, how could I ever forget? It was a weird time. Back then, the Vietnam War was in full swing. Young men received draft notices everyday.”
“But not ten-year-old boys.” Joe snickered. “How did it all begin?”
“A few days after my tenth birthday in July 1968, I retrieved several envelopes from the mailbox. I kept the one on top addressed to me and tossed the other letters on the kitchen table. I thought it might be another birthday card with money inside.
“As I sat on my bed, I tore through the large envelope and unfolded the heavy paper. A page full of words met my eager eyes. I saw the word “Greetings” but decided it was probably one of those advertisements like Dad and Mom often received. I folded the thick sheet into an airplane and tossed it in the air. The missive landed in the corner of my room where it stayed for weeks.
“One month later, my mother answered the doorbell. Two military police said they were there to escort me to jail because I had failed to report for active duty. They left when Mom told them that the person they were looking for was on vacation in England.
“Dad immediately called the Draft Board and explained the situation. An official instructed him to bring my birth certificate and me to the office the next day.”
“Didn’t you tell your parents about the letter?” Joe asked taking a swig of cola.
“No, I didn’t read the letter, remember?”
“The next day Dad and I met with a Sergeant. He reviewed the letter, looked at my birth certificate, and, of course, agreed something was wrong. Dad reminded him that Uncle Fred had lived with us until a few weeks ago. We had the same name and birth date, except for the year. He must be the person the army wanted. The Sergeant agreed but he felt he needed to investigate the matter further.
“Dad and I returned home where we met Mom at the front door. She had found the airplane I made out of the draft letter while cleaning my room. Why had I not shown her and Dad this important document? My explanation was not satisfactory.”
“What happened then?” Joe asked, emptying his cola can.
“Uncle Fred came home from Europe at the end of the week. Dad reminded him to contact the Draft Board. The Sergeant called Dad two days later and said he had obtained the original letter from Richmond.
“The typist had correctly typed Uncle Fred’s birth year as 1948 but when he had put the letter back in the typewriter to enter the missing date, a paper crease hid the birth date. He erroneously typed 1958 over the crease, copied the original, and mailed a copy to me. The Sergeant called it a wrinkle in time. He apologized for the error.
“Uncle Fred was chewed out for not reporting his new address to the Board. He was warned that if he did not appear at the Federal Building at the assigned time, two soldiers would be sent to his home to arrest him. Uncle Fred served a year in Viet Nam and one year in Germany.”
“Wow, what a funny story.” Joe said as he stood and stretched his arms over his head.
“Yeah, I can laugh now, but it sure wasn’t funny at the time. I was grounded for a month.”
Before we left, I poured a bucket of sand over the dying embers. “It was good to see you again, Cousin. Hope you come to Virginia some time and visit us."
“I”ll do that.” Joe said as we patted each other’s shoulders.
A full moon hung low in the sky as we said our final goodbyes. I watched Joe’s car crawl down the long, country driveway before it disappeared. I sauntered up the wooden steps to the porch, went indoors, and turned out the porch light.
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