From USA Today:
"What happened to the draftees who stepped forward the day Muhammad Ali stood still?"
Fifty years ago Friday, on a day when 37 Americans died in the Vietnam War, a group of young men reported to a military induction center in Houston to answer their nation's call to service. When their names were read, all but one stepped forward. Today, the only one we remember is the only one who refused to take that step — Muhammad Ali, the world heavyweight champion. He claimed that he was a minister of the Nation of Islam, a conscientious objector, and exempt from the draft. We know what happened to Ali after that — how he was stripped of his boxing license and title and convicted of draft evasion; how he successfully appealed the conviction in 1971 and regained the title in 1974; how he became, with time and in sickness, an almost universally sympathetic figure. But what happened to those draftees who did step forward? Richard Budrow stood next to Ali at the Houston induction center on April 28, 1967, seven months before a bomb exploded under him in Vietnam. Sometimes, he says, “You want to ask, ‘Who went and who didn’t, and who went in their place, and how did they fare?’ ’’ USA TODAY located and spoke with two groups of draftees: some who were at the Houston induction, and some from Ali’s hometown of Louisville who registered for the draft when he did and whose Selective Service numbers were in the same sequence. No one in the Houston or Louisville cohorts said he regrets his service, including those who saw combat and one who still suffers from PTSD. Most said they benefited from the experience — learned a skill, saw the world, got money for college or simply matured. No one known to have been with Ali in Houston, or who was with him on page 5 of the Louisville roster, died in Vietnam. Most did not serve there; and some did not serve in the military at all. Eight of the 29 from Louisville listed with Ali were excused for one reason or another. Others, to avoid the draft, joined the Army reserve, the Navy or the Air Force. But they expressed no such unanimity about Ali’s refusal to join them. In fact, their opinions on his stand — pro and con — have changed little over the decades, even as the national understanding of what Ali did mellowed and deepened. That split is personified by two Houston inductees: Budrow, then 26, and John McCullough, 22. Both went to Vietnam and, in different ways, were seriously injured. But decades later they disagree on the merits and meaning of Ali’s stand. That day, “It was my turn to step up,’’ Budrow says. “I was not concerned with a loudmouthed celebrity refusing induction’’ whose score on the military aptitude test “was slightly above that of a turnip.’’ When Joe Frazier beat Ali in 1971, “somewhere down deep, I got a little satisfaction,’’ he says, in a tone that guarantees his satisfaction was not small. To McCullough, Ali was what he said he was — the greatest. Every year he buys a new Muhammad Ali photo calendar. “I have no resentment toward Ali,’’ he says, “He did what his heart said to do.’’ When Ali died last year, he says, “I just about cried. I prayed for him. I’d learned to love him.’’ On April 18, 1960, Cassius M. Clay registered for the draft with Selective Service System Board 47 in Louisville. Four years later, based on an aptitude test, he was classified unfit for service. But in 1966, with more soldiers needed to fight in Vietnam, the military lowered the mental standard, and he was reclassified 1A. His memorable reaction: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.’’ He’d already embraced the separatist Black Muslims and dropped what he called his “slave name.’’ This was before Colin Kaepernick took a knee on the NFL sidelines, before Tommie Smith raised a gloved fist at the Olympics. Ali, to many Americans, was anathema. His appeals failed, and he was ordered to report for induction in Houston, where he lived. He arrived at 8 a.m. to find a crowd outside the federal building composed of a few sympathetic demonstrators and a lot of journalists. Other inductees had to squeeze through. One was McCullough, a recent college graduate who got drafted before he could enter the Peace Corps. “I’m going because it’s my duty,’’ he told reporters. As for Ali, “If he really is a minister I don’t think he should have to fight if he doesn’t want to.’’ When Ali walked into the induction center on the third floor, he looked to Phillip Baxley, a 23-year-old draftee who’d just bid his wife goodbye, like “the scaredest son of a gun I ever saw. He didn’t know what was going to happen.’’ But Ali loosened up. He shadow boxed and threw playful jabs at one inductee. He joked that if he went to Vietnam, “I’d have the Viet Cong shooting at me in front and you guys shooting at me in back.’’ According to another draftee, Gary Laine, “some took offense at that.’’ Today, some of the draftees’ resentment toward Ali is mitigated by their belief that military service changed them for the better. In the Louisville contingent, Steve Stigers was assigned to the horn section of an Air Force band that toured the West. Worth Robbins picked up programming languages that led to a career in computers. Bill Gehring learned, at 19, "to keep my mouth shut when I don't know what i'm talking about.'' Among the Houston group, Laine became a chemical salesman. Neel, after passing through “my hippie phase’’ and protesting the Vietnam War, became a cable TV tech. Baxley still practices architecture in Dallas. Budrow stayed in the Army for 21 years and rose to sergeant major. He still has pieces of shrapnel inside him, but walks so well on his reconstructed ankle you hardly notice a limp. He gave his two Purple Heart medals to his grandchildren. He’s says he’s lucky he was drafted; the Army gave him structure and self-esteem. His framed delinquent induction notice hangs in the study of his house in Middletown, Del. McCullough retired after working for 34 years on the Puget Sound ferries in Washington state. Although he's suffered from post-traumatic stress for many years — he can't even watch war movies — it became worse after a head injury about 10 years ago. His Vietnam nightmares seemed so real he’d swing at things; he and his wife had to sleep apart. Unlike Budrow, McCullough never believed in the war, and he didn’t want to be drafted. He wonders about the Peace Corps and what might have been. “My shrink says, ‘John, I blame the war. It took you out of a peaceful life.’ ’’ During Vietnam, when the Army conscripted about 2 million men, the draft became almost as big an issue as the war. No American has been drafted since 1972, when the U.S. role in Vietnam was winding down. And today, with voluntary military service venerated by many Americans, it may be hard to imagine a national hero as a draft resister, or vice versa. When Ali died last year, that chapter of his life was either downplayed or presented as an understandable response to a mistaken war. But some of those who went when he stayed have never forgotten or forgiven. Several fault him not so much for his views on the war or his religious sincerity, but for not taking a compromise offered by the Army — accept induction and spend your tour far from the battlefield, entertaining troops with boxing exhibitions. Budrow feels Ali was used by the Black Muslims — “a racist cult’’ — for their own ends. But he reserves his contempt for those who lionize Ali. When Ali was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, “that insulted me,’’ he says. “The government called him a great American. A great American what?’’ Budrow admits, however, that Ali differed from those who dodged the draft by fleeing to Canada or grad school; he faced the consequences and, in not stepping forward, embarked on an odyssey as challenging as any who did.
“He was poorly advised,’’ he says. “When my grandchildren asked me about Ali, I’d just say, ‘I don’t plan to invite him to go fishing.’ ’’ In his later years, Ali backed away from the Black Muslims’ separatist line and embraced a moderate form of Islam. In 1994 he visited Vietnam, where he was received as a hero. He never apologized for his draft stand. It doesn’t really matter, says Laine, the former medic. “In any war, there are some that go and more that don’t go. If you talk about the ones that didn’t go, you’re missing the point.’’
^ I have never been faced with being Drafted (I did register for the Selective Service at 18) and so can not 100% say what I would have done had I been Drafted for World War 1, World War 2, Korea or Vietnam. I would like to think I would have served, but that is just what I hope would happen. With that said I have respect for people who pick a side and stay with it regardless of the consequences. Ali just doesn't fit that for me. Had he tried to be a C.O when he first registered for the Draft in 1960 then he would have, but instead he registered and hoped it wouldn't happen and because of his low military test scores it didn't for a while. Then when it became a reality he decided to change his belief structure and I don't buy it. People have made him into some great hero who stood-up for his beliefs, but I see him as a man who flipped-flopped rather than sticking to his beliefs from beginning to end. I find this article is really interesting because it shows the different dimensions and fates of people Drafted at the same time. Some served, some didn't, some went to Vietnam, some different, some were wounded, some weren't, some benefitted from their service and some different. The ordinary person's story is sometimes more real and "better" than the celebrities' story. This is one of those cases. ^