AWOL in Berkeley, 1968

Look 3

Steve Murtaugh, photography by Kim Massie for the October 15, 1968 issue of Look Magazine

For text of the entire article, click here.

In about October of 1964 I had elected to drop out of my junior year of college to consider if I really wanted to stick with my rather newish quest to become a PhD in Experimental Psychology.

People had lots to say about the advisability or lack thereof of the hiatus, but no one had warned me about how quickly Selective Service would take away my 4s student deferment and move to draft me into the U.S. Army.

In a matter of weeks “my friends and neighbors” on the local draft board ‘requested’ that I to report to Chicago for their pre-induction physical. The presumptions was that as a warm body, I’d be found to be physically fit enough to serve, and I was.

Upon my follow up inquiry, the local draft board staffer made plain that very quickly after ‘bending over and spreading them’ there would be another free train ride to Chicago, destination two years in the Army. And by then it was in the air everywhere that the Southeast Asian war was growing rapidly. The need for ‘feet on the ground’ was fueling this new alacrity, so I was now considered ripe for service in the jungles and rice paddies of Viet Nam (as it was called then).

All this galvanized my thinking. I had gone to grade school one block from Ronald Regan’s official home. I was as thoroughly imbued with Midwestern values and culture as him or anyone. A patriotic outlook and willingness to serve never left my mind. But would I feel like re-entering college two + years on if my brief ‘time off’ was extended so drastically?

I decided to return to college and re-enter the Still Photography School. That would net me a Bachelors Degree, and if the Army were to make me a Photographer – that Military Occupational Specialty or MOS did exist, I discovered – I would return from my tour with a portfolio and a good chance to launch a career in photojournalism. And college would always be there.

So it all seemed to be going that way as I wound my way to Viet Nam in January 1968, but the ground I stood on became more and more eroded. A bit of that was told in the Look article, which will be posted here in the not too distant future.

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