Rick Derman (unedited – not in CALLED TO SERVE)
Rick is a husband, father, coach and friend, living in Langhorne, PA. His wife Patti is an ER Nurse. They have three children from 24 to 34 years of age, and no grandchildren (yet). He is an active supporter of President Obama, loves to hike, and hopes to retire to Hawaii.
Professionally, he is a Biomedical/Electrical Engineer. His career has been
primarily centered on the development of medical devices from patient monitoring and cardiac cath-lab equipment to 3D ultrasound devices to automated cell culturing systems, with lots in between.
As a child of the sixties, born right in the hump of the baby boom – 1950 – I thought it really was all about me. I grew up next to what I considered to be the center of the universe – New York City. My team, the Yankees, could do no wrong. My family was comfortably middle-class; the town was white bread suburban, the schools geared for achievement. I was smart; my friends were smart. We had the American Dream; a Normal Rockwell existence.
I can remember the air-raid drills and walking to school during the Cuban missile crisis wondering if we were actually going to use those drills after all. I even made a small stockpile of non-perishable items in the basement: my own fallout shelter. I guess my folks put up with my concerns, but they were pretty uncomfortable when I decided to join a Marine Reserve unit while I was a junior in high school.
They tried to talk me out of it. I would have ended up in Quantico, VA at a basic training camp if it hadn’t conflicted with going to summer camp. I don’t know exactly when my epiphany occurred, but at some point in 1966-67 I went from believing in the domino theory to believing with all my heart that the Vietnam War was totally unjust. I saw it as a cynical exercise to protect commercial interests at the expense of the blood of my fellow boomers. It was somewhere in the confluence of weed, music, the civil rights movement and coming of age that I realized that my government was really not of the people, by the people and for the people. When Mark Rudd and the SDS staged a campus takeover at Columbia University in the spring of 1968 I learned that there were alternatives to acceptance of the political status quo.
So, off I went to college that fall – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. As a freshman I was appalled that Nixon won the campus election. Richard fucking Nixon! So I joined the Peace and Freedom Party, and after US troops invaded Cambodia, we invaded the Student Affairs Center. I was engaged in mainly symbolic acts – turning in my draft card for example – because I was still relatively safe with a 2-S student deferment, and majoring in Bio-medical Engineering so I wouldn’t be part of the Military-Industrial Complex. This was certainly a far cry from the Marine reserves
Then came the draft lottery on December 1, 1969. Being the first lottery this applied to everyone born 1950 and earlier. I remember sitting around with my friends, getting high and waiting to hear our birthdays called out. I was 150 – February 11. This is where things got interesting for me. Given the state of the war at that time, my number was too low to think I wouldn’t be drafted in 2+ years when I graduated. I made the decision that there was no way I was going to submit to the draft. Lucky for me, my mother made the same decision.
Many people say their mother is amazing, or awesome, or the best. My mother was all of those things and more. Remembering this story has made me realize and appreciate her even more. Right after the lottery she started a campaign with my ex-pediatrician to magnify a childhood kidney condition I had into a full-blown defer-able condition that would result in my being classified 4-F. I’ll never know because of what happened next, but it very probably would have worked.
What did happen resulted from an interesting wrinkle in the draft lottery law. If a person declared himself eligible for the draft at any time in a calendar year and was not picked, his lottery number effectively became 366 PLUS his lottery number. I didn’t know about this law, but my mother did. I think she was even more determined that I not go to Vietnam than I was. She was the one paying attention when the Selective Service System declared, late in 1971, that they were not taking anyone else that year. She proceeded to promptly submit the papers declaring me eligible for the draft that year. I can’t even remember signing them. A lot of memories from that time have been lost in a cloud of smoke, but that’s how my mother saved my ass from the draft.
In the end, my draft story is about a mother’s love. I know she would have done anything for me, without hesitation. In so many ways she made me who I am. She also made it possible for me to be able to become who I became.