An Army Story: Cold War and a Father’s Warmth
I was a campus activist who got drafted in Nixon’s lottery. My father helped me get through it.
May 4, 1970. It took all but 13 seconds for the shots to ring out, four Kent State students dead, the American tapestry gashed.
Like most colleges, Penn State University shut its doors on a pass-fail basis. At first, we celebrated an early dismissal of our freshman year. But for me, deep-down, there was a feeling of dread.
The shootings of student protesters by the Ohio National Guard pressed a pause button on our sense of mission. The anti-war movement started fracturing in ways I didn’t like. It left me demoralized and unsure of what to do next. I’m not the kind to ask for help.
Even as Kent State became a distant memory, I drifted. I lost my momentum. I was using drugs. I wanted no part of school. I couldn’t answer the fundamental question: What do you want to be?
I joined a commune called Dream Canyon outside Boulder, CO. I lived in Southern California. Unbeknownst to me, the Nixon administration held a military draft lottery for my birth year on July 1, 1970.
In a phone booth in Long Beach, I learned that my lottery number was 61. The cut-off number for 1971 inductions was 125. Lucky me.
In my family, it’s been several generations since the celebratory “first one to go to college.” In the Goutman family, you go to college. It is a given. So you can imagine the pressure I felt every time I called home.
As the calendar flipped to 1971, the draft notices started piling up. What are you going to do, Andy? Indeed. Should I go “on the lam” under the radar in California? Move to Canada and start a new life? I had heard about guys starving themselves or acting insane before reporting to their draft boards. I was a completely healthy 19-year-old man with his whole life ahead of him. None of those scenarios appealed to me.
Towards the end of the year while on the phone with my father, he beckoned me to come home for Christmas and figure this out. I accepted.
Making the Deal
My dad’s approach was to accept my fate and see what kind of deal we could make with the Army. With Nixon’s “Vietnamization” in full swing, South Vietnam was taking on more and more of the ground war. “Only” 133,000 US troops remained, a reduction from a half-million in 1968.
During that winter, my dad and I made several trips to the Army recruiting center in Media, PA. After some tests, a Sgt. Kelly made us an offer: You take an extra year to make it three years and we’ll give you the choice of duty assignment and duty station.
The result: I would go to adjutant school and be a personnel specialist in Germany. It seemed a whole lot better than being a “grunt” in Vietnam.
My reporting date to Ft. Dix basic training was April 19, 1972. My dad and I pretty much spent the winter together, his cushy college professor job giving him plenty of spare time. It sounds strange but it was hard to let go of each other.
So instead of dropping me off at the Philadelphia induction center at 401 N. Broad St. for a bus to Ft. Dix, my dad headed for the bridge to New Jersey to drive me straight to Dix. As we drove up to the gate, we could see the busloads of recruits. I managed to blend in easily.
We were allowed weekend leaves during our last two weeks of basic training. On my return trips on Sunday, my dad drove me to the bus station in a run-down section of central Philadelphia. We enjoyed a few adult beverages before I boarded the bus. I remember begging the driver to stop at a gas station so I could use the facilities.
Despite that, I was in the best shape of my life upon graduating basic training. After a tough four-week course at the Adjutant General school at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, IN, I was ready for Germany.
About a year into my tour in Germany, I received stunning news: My dad was taking a group of Moore College of Art students to Amsterdam, Holland, to visit its many museums. I took the train up and had a cheerful reunion with my dad. I was certainly charmed by his students; Moore was an all-women’s school.
My father stayed behind and headed for Aschaffenburg. He held court in my Ready Barracks room, my buddies amazed that someone’s father would visit and break their isolation.
The two of us, along with my best friend Bill Snell, repaired to a gasthaus (bar) across the street. My dad got along with some of the older folks and was soon singing along with them…in perfect German.
Months after I was honorably discharged from the Army in April 1975, I did go back to school. I attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH. I graduated from Temple University in 1979 with a B.A. in journalism.
I got my momentum back. Thanks, dad.