I would like to add one more tiny piece to the story. The late Sixties and early Seventies was a time of massive anti-war protests in America. Young men were dodging the draft and going to Canada. My own father, a staunch pacifist despite being a career military man, retired from the army in order to avoid going to Vietnam. At the back of every boy’s mind in our high school was the unsettling trepidation that upon graduation from high school we would be drafted and sent to Vietnam. Many of us had older brothers who were drafted and sent to war. Many of them never came back and some of them came back missing limbs. Every boy in my school lived with this uncertainty.
Gilbert and I had talked about it a lot. We vowed to each other that, when drafted, we would both go to Canada. Of course there was debate between Canada and Mexico. After all, from our homes we could have been in Mexico in less than an hour. The big problem with Mexico, though, was that neither Gilbert nor I spoke Spanish. (Why was he taking French and me Latin? We should have taken Spanish.) There was no debate, however, that we would both dodge the draft. Our vow was something else that bonded us.
Despite what a complete and utter scumbag Richard M. Nixon was, there was one day during our high school years when all of us boys celebrated Nixon and considered him a hero. It was the day Nixon ended the draft. The news spread through school like wildfire and it was not long before a massive celebratory party was scheduled for later that night out in the desert. Gilbert and I both attended this huge party and along with a couple of hundred boys we raucously celebrated the end of the fear we all lived with. I will never forget the tremendous joy collectively being expressed by my peers.
So, in light of this, perhaps it can be better appreciated how catastrophic it was to hear from Gilbert that he had joined the Navy. Despite being an avowed pacifist and having vowed to go to Canada to avoid military service, Gilbert, through his own actions, had been coaxed to join the military after all. The bitter irony was like a knife being stabbed in our guts.