Mormons and the Vietnam-Era Draft

I see that the Boston Globe, as part of their campaign against Mitt Romney, is trying to paint a sinister portrait of the LDS Church working “hand-in-hand” with the Selective Service Board on draft deferments for LDS young men serving full-time missions during the Vietnam era.

What a load of hooey.

Not that the deferments didn’t happen; they did. I should know: I had one. My draft number (in the 1972 spring draft) was 4, an absolute guarantee that I would be drafted after my 2-year (fixed-term) mission was over. The only person on my dorm floor with a draft number under 100 was Glade Roper (now a judge in Texas), who spent the next few weeks calling me “Sarge”. I made my plans to enlist in the Navy when I came back, since I would no longer have a ministerial deferment at that point. As it turned out, I didn’t have to; the draft ended several months before I returned from Central America.

But this is why the Boston Globe story is a load of hooey: during the Vietnam Era, Mormons were almost certainly over-represented in the US Armed Forces. At a time when many universities were banning or discouraging military recruiters and eliminating their ROTC programs, BYU welcomed all such recruiters and had large and active Army and Air Force ROTC programs. Likewise, anti-war protests during the Vietnam Era were relatively rare and small at BYU. US-based Mormons as a rule were at this time fiercely patriotic, pro-military, and generally anti-Communist; they probably questioned the Vietnam War less than any other major religious group in the US, even when the LDS leaders themselves had long-standing concerns and issues.

By and large, Mormons were not draft-dodgers; instead they were volunteers. Yes, ministerial deferments were available for the standard two-year period of serving a mission, but many LDS young men turned around after those two years and either enlisted or were drafted. In fact, the only person I personally knew of who died in Vietnam was Paul Rose, the older brother of an LDS acquaintance in a neighboring ward (LDS congregation) in La Mesa, California.

I know nothing of Mitt Romney’s personal history with the draft and military service; as I’ve noted before, he’s not my choice for President, and I feel no particular need to defend him. But the Boston Globe’s insinuation that Latter-day Saints were collectively a bunch of draft dodgers is just silly.  ..bruce..

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