The U.S. draft did not affect me because, fortunately for both the military and me, I was born, raised and worked in Canada until I acquired a Social Security card and joined the Detroit News in my early 30s before moving to California a half-dozen years later.
But I did have a fleeting turn with the military in my 20s. A handful of us reporters at a southern Ontario daily — K-W Record — responded to a call to donate two years of our time to serve as reservists. After Press Club conversations with local military poohbahs, we drew straws to see which company we would approach. I wound up with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. They told me I was a second lieutenant, the company’s PIO and signed me up for an intro training weekend.
I got the Friday off and drove to Camp Borden about an hour north of Toronto. A light rain began as we assembled in the mess hall where we were assigned to small squads according to numbers handed us as we entered the building. Each unit comprised three or four regular enlisted men and three or four reservists. My sergeant (enlisted) had a map marked into squares. It was announced that each squad would search the square marked with its number on the map. And, we were told, “There’s a case of beer out there and it’s marked on the map.” The first thing I looked for after the sergeant unfolded our map was the X marking the beer. Then I hunted for the grid with our number. We were nowhere near.
So I asked the sergeant to give me one of his regulars and, while he and the rest of the men searched our grid, we would get the beer.
That’s when I learned I was not compatible with the military. He gave me a flat stare and, pressing his forefinger on the square with our number on it, said, “Sir, we can’t do that, we’re assigned to this area.” I agreed and pointed out that he and the rest of the unit would complete our task while the two of us – I wasn’t going to carry a case of beer all by myself and I needed a regular who was familiar with the camp’s terrain – would get the beer and meet them back at our bunks. He was unable to translate that thought and repeated to this civilian reservist, “Sir, our orders are to search this area.” For once in my life, I was thinking clearly. I scanned the group and recognized that his regular-enlisted 2-IC liked the logic of my approach, so I said, “Corporal, come with me.”
We got the beer (and let the sergeant share) but that obliterated any thought of further military service. The next morning, I claimed a family emergency and drove out of camp.