Drafted during the Vietnam War: Saying you were gay

During the Vietnam War, if you were drafted, could you have walked into the draft board, said that you were gay, and then been excused, no further questions asked?

If so, I can’t imagine why, and I know that there was far more stigma attached back then, that more guys didn’t do that.

Not really. They didn’t want gay men, but they wouldn’t just believe you were. Too many men would have gotten out of service. It would have been a lot easier than leaving the country to avoid serving because you were drafted. Remember this wasn’t a voluntary service war, which makes a big difference from what is happening now and during the Gulf War.

So how would they verify that you were lying?

Chevy Chase did something like this, but in a much less obvious way. He answered their questions with utter honesty. When asked he’d had sexual experiences with other males, he said yes, as another boy once showed him how to masturbate. When asked if he liked men better then women, he said yes, as most of his friends were men and he spent most of his time with men. He never actually said he was homosexual–the topic was so taboo at the time that the question was never bluntly asked.

From the tenor of Chase’s telling, my WAG is that homosexuality invoked such a pariah status at the time that very few would claim it to escape the draft. If it got out that you’d said you were gay, dire consequences would result.

That being said, I would be interested in any interviews with folks who served on draft boards during the period to see how prevalent this claim was. My dad had about 12 guys in his rural school graduating class (1966). IIRC, only one of them went to Vietnam. My dad rattled off a list of physical infirmities that kept the various guys out of the war, but this was a crew that was ranked state-wide in football and basketball–anything they had wrong with them physically couldn’t have been a huge deal.

I met a guy who had a leg problem so he played a lot of BB right before his physical and it messed up his leg so he failed the physical. I wonder how many other people did something like that.

Bruce Springsteen’s story is kind of like that. He stayed up for days beforehand and attributed his dazed state to a head injury he’d sustained in a motorcycle accident years before. That got him his 4F.

Per Arlo Guthrie


It has been pointed out repeatedly here that physical problems that aren’t a big deal in normal life are absolutely disqualifying to the military. An often cited example is Joe Namath, who got a medical deferment because of a bad knee. This is legitimate - in the NFL if your knee goes out they haul you to the sidelines. In Vietnam if this happens they have to get you to a hospital miles away, and in the meantime you can’t do your job or move.

Guys can get killed this way.

My grandfather absolutely wanted to fight, but was kept out of WWII with a previously undiagnosed heart murmur. He maintained a vigorous outdoor oriented lifestyle the rest of his life, and when he died his heart was still in fine shape. Didn’t matter - that draft deferment was also likely justified.

Was it true that flat feet meant you were disqualified?

Still is. A friend of mine was a recruiter for years. Lost a lot of contracts that way. Ironically, his feet were pretty flat themselves, but he’d already done a lot of marching and he managed to convince the docs that it wasn’t a problem.

When I entered in 1993, flat feet got you lots of extra attention from the docs to determine whether they would cause problems during service. Most times the recruits were disqualified, but this wasn’t a hard and fast rule.

It often depended on how they were filling their manpower requirements. If they were short soldiers, they’d sometimes induct you even if you were gay. Randy Shilts wrote about a case where someone who really was gay tried to get rejected and had the recruiter say he (or she) had to show a marriage license to someone of the same sex to get it.

I did exactly that. Before you could be drafted, you first had to register for the draft. First I had to go through the entire physical and paperwork, then they sent me to an office where I was interviewed. The officer asked me a lot of questions about being gay (my attraction to men vs. women; fantasies; gay bars; places to have sex; frequency of sex; etc.), and apparently I gave the right answers, because they classified me as “1-Y,” which is a “medical, but not debilitating” discharge. I could still be drafted, but only in a national emergency, and only after almost everyone else was drafted.

In order to be convincing, I wore my skin-tight white Levis and t-shirt and penny loafers (one of the stereotypical gay “uniforms” back then), and deliberately acted a little more “femme” than normal. It worked.

During the period I heard a story, probably apocryphal, about a guy to drank a huge amount of coffee to drive his blood pressure too high for his draft physical. They took him anyway. Six months later he had another physical for some reason, and the doctor commented, “Dunno why they took you in, with blood pressure this low.”

Your grandpap and Deke Slayton should have had a couple beers together.

“You were in the war?”
“Nah…homo…much better now, though.”

When I enlisted in the late 70’s I was asked if I had “a homosexual problem” and if I had “a drug problem”. Being able to get drugs in a gay bar was apparently allowed as long as you could do it without difficulty.

I have to point out that in my case I really was gay, and just answered the questions honestly. I knew several guys who faked it and got caught. We really should have had classes in Gay 101. And even though I acted a little more femme, I was smart enough not to overdo it.

:: never mind ::

It showed your resourcefulness, which is a useful trait in a soldier, after all!

Air Force asked me a lot about drug use. Can’t recall any sex questions but I guess they were probably on a form I filled out. This was for officer school.