"The Old Man’s Draft"

Thomas Manford Rawlins in about 1942

    Cousin Jackie, our family genealogist, recently sent a document that rocked me back on my heels. It was a copy of a 1942 registration card for my then 63-year-old grandfather, Thomas Manford Rawlins. It brought back memories of poorly-understood events and conversations from that time in my life.

    In the spring of 1942, I had been in my 1st grade classroom when the mailman brought my father an envelope from the U.S. Selective Service. It was an official summons from the draft board to serve in the United States army. My younger sister, still at home, remembers our mother weeping in despair. Our parents had five small children to support, the youngest only a few months old. How would Mom manage by herself if her husband had to go to war?

    Fortunately for all of us, Dad found work as a logger about that time and received an “essential worker” deferment. But Grandpa? His shaky signature on the card indicates that he was already sick and unable to work. Was America so desperate for fighting men that they actually drafted senior citizens?

    Not really. This was the fourth of a total of seven draft registrations initiated by the Selective Service during World War II. Known unofficially as the “Old Man’s Draft,” it was meant to provide the government with a pool of men aged 45-65 who could help out on the home front by taking the place of young men who’d been drafted to fight.

    On April 27 1942, the official registration day for the Fourth Draft, long lines formed outside local draft board offices around the country . Many men waiting to register voiced their regrets that they were too old to fight. Feeling that this was one way they could serve their country, they registered willingly.

    I don’t know how Grandpa felt about it. And I don’t know if any of the men who registered for the “Old Men’s Draft” were actually called to serve. But it was a measure of our country’s spirit that everyone, young and old, felt a sense of being in the war effort together, whether we fought, collected scrap metal, planted victory gardens, or saved for war bonds.

    Some were drafted. Many volunteered. But almost everyone had a part in winning the war, including America’s “old men.”

Grandpa’s draft card. Reverse side holds physical description. His eyes were blue, like mine.

One thought on “"The Old Man’s Draft"”

  1. We didn't know anything about this, Joan. Thank you for sharing it. I wonder what someone of your grandfather's age might have been asked to do if he'd actually been called up.

    Like

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