Amid all the soul-searching on gun violence in schools, a stray remark from President Trump hit me in the gut:
“I think, I really believe, I'd run in there even if I didn't have a weapon.”
The widely ridiculed assertion hits an old twitchy nerve tied to Vietnam.
Comedian Stephen Colbert echoed many liberal Trump catcallers who took the easy bait.
“Look, sir,” Colbert smirked. “We already know how you react to combat situations. You got five deferments from Vietnam.”
It’s not fake news that Trump legally avoided military service the same way millions of young American men did during the Vietnam War.
Trump, who’s about my age, was granted four college deferments. Ultimately, he received a 1-Y exemption for heel bone spurs, an affliction that evidently did not impede his love of sports.
Like Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney, Trump played the angles. He was free to enjoy the high life in New York. (He famously joked that avoiding venereal disease was his Vietnam.)
I, by contrast, was born and raised in Coronado, an island rich in Navy brass where almost every man I knew had served in the Pacific. (And where boys addressed men as “Sir.”)
And yet, despite the home-schooling in naval military tradition, I, too, became an artful (as opposed to criminal) draft dodger.
Nearing graduation, when my college deferments were running out, I weighed my options, vacillating from one pole to the other.
I told friends I might leave for Canada, as a friend at UC Davis had done, or I might join the Navy, earn a commission and buy a used Porsche.
Before I was forced to decide on either extreme, I had one last card to play.
I arranged for a physical with a doctor selected by the draft board. I had a history of nasty infections, but there was little chance I’d receive an exemption, our family doctor predicted.
Worth a try, I thought.
On the appointed day, I reported to a slender, bearded physician who reminded me of Peter or Paul (not Mary). He barely glanced at my file, asked if I wanted to go. I shook my head. He nodded and said, “You’re 4-F.”
Stunned, I asked, Why me?
He told me he’d lost faith in the war. I inferred that he was giving me the benefit of his own doubt.
I floated out of the doctor’s office, fizzing with my good fortune and yet I knew not to spike the football. Some other kid was going to have to take my place. And I’m celebrating?
My dodge wasn’t as spiritually bankrupt as the civilians who paid poor men to serve in their places in the Civil War.
I did not starve myself or pretend to be insane or gay. I never lied. I just lucked out.
So was I a coward?
I knew that I would have answered in a heartbeat the call to arms after Pearl the same way my father had, serving on Adm. “Bull” Halsey’s staff in the South Pacific.
Thanks to Vietnam war correspondents, Walter Cronkite, Daniel Ellsberg and armies of campus protesters, I truly believed Vietnam was an ugly American misadventure, a moral lost cause.
And yet, all these years later, I still second-guess my lucky dodge.
During the Presidents’ Day weekend, we bunked our grandchildren and, during an emotional moment, I told them that I loved them so much I would take a bullet for them.
A kidney -- hell, take two. Whatever their survival requires.
Is that an old man’s vainglorious bluster?
This column is a roundabout way of saying I get what Trump was driving at when he told a group of governors that, unlike the armed men who stayed outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he likes to believe he would have run toward the hail of bullets and, if fate decreed, died a soldier’s death.
This fellow draft dodger likes to believe the same thing.