For all the controversy about their draft records, Bill Clinton and Dan Quayle were by no means the only public figures who were faced with difficult decisions during the ’60s and early ’70s. The Vietnam War was a time of crisis for nearly all young men of their generation—with varying consequences. As this roundup of public figures shows, some served in the military, but others among the 26 million men between the ages of 18 and 26 who were eligible for compulsory military service found ways to delay the call-up or to avoid it. Exemptions were initially available for college students as well as for those who joined the reserves and for married men with children.
In fact some of Clinton’s sharpest critics were nowhere near the front lines themselves. Republican Sen. Phil Gramm, for example, acidly noted that Governor Clinton “came as close to military service as ROTC at Arkansas.” But Gramm received his own exemption from service (see below).
ABC newsman Forrest Sawyer—who graduated from the University of Florida in 1971—received a high draft number but says that if called “I would not have gone.” Sawyer, who participated in antiwar demonstrations, says he was even contemplating going to jail rather than serving. “The government had no right to ask its citizens to fight an undeclared war for murky purposes,” he says. George Bush, and most others of his generation, did not face the same doubts when they enlisted to serve in World War II.
Sawyer, for one, feels the subject should no longer be used for political advantage. “That war was not a good war. History has shown us that,” he says. But the anger and divisions remain, and the agonizing choices forced upon young men are reflected in the Vietnam War records of those who lived through the era.
Rambo and all-around movie macho man
Stallone, 46, served as girls’ athletic coach at the American College of Switzerland in Leysin from 1965 to 1967. Stallone also received deferments while at the University of Miami in the late ’60s. He dropped out of school in 1969. The next year he failed an Army Physical.
Georgia Republican Congressman
He spent 10 years in college, from 1961 to 1971, eventually earning a Ph.D. in history from Tulane. Gingrich, 49, who has criticized Clinton, says he had both a student deferment and a hardship exemption to support his two children.
JOSEPH P. KENNEDY II
Massachusetts Congressman and son of Robert F. Kennedy
Kennedy, 40, was in two draft lotteries, once in high school and later in college. Both times, his number was too high for him to be called for service. The Congressman says he did not seek special treatment and was ready for duty if drafted.
Texas GOP Senator
From 1965 to 1970, Gramm, 50, received several deferments. As a student, he was exempted from the draft. After earning a doctorate from the University of Georgia in 1967, he obtained an “essential occupation” deferment in order to teach economics.
Secretary of Defense
Cheney, 51, received several student deferments and an exemption in 1966 because his Wife, Lynne, was pregnant. In 1989, Cheney admitted, “I had other priorities in the ’60s than military service.”
Campaign consultant to Bill Clinton
The Louisianan, 47, enlisted in the Marines but never saw action. He turned against the war after talking to returning vets. He says, “I would not describe [enlisting] as a singularly patriotic act.”
A Washington Post editor
He attended Yale on an ROTC scholarship, graduating in 1965. Woodward, 49, was at sea for four years and at the Pentagon for one. He joined the Post in 1971.
The President’s second son and head of his father’s re-election effort in Florida
Jeb, 39, received a low draft number, but men of his age were not called. Barbara Bush revealed that Jeb had considered registering as a conscientious objector.
Clinton’s running mate
Although he opposed the war, Gore, 44, enlisted in the Army and was assigned to duty as a reporter for the 20th Engineering Battalion. He spent six months in Vietnam and covered sonic battles. His father, Sen. Albert Gore of Tennessee, was an early critic of the war.
GEORGE W. BUSH
The Bushes’ oldest son
Alter graduating from Yale in 1968, Bush, 46, served as a pilot flying F-102 aircraft in the Texas Air National Guard until 1973.
CHRIS WALLACE ABC
Wallace says he was “concerned” about the draft, but his application to the Navy Officer Candidate School was rejected because he suffered from asthma. Wallace, 44, says Clinton’s problem is not the draft but “has he come clean?”
The Democratic Senator from New Jersey
A basketball star at Princeton, class of ’65, and, like Clinton, a Rhodes scholar at Oxford for two years, Bradley, 49, signed up for the Air Force reserves when he left school in 1967. He remained in the reserves until 1978.