Vietnam Canada and the Draft 2

From Fred Danenhower, Summerland BC

My oldest brother drew a lottery number of 29 on his 18th birthday in March of 1968. I was 13, 5’1” and playing sports all the time. As a family we didn’t really have a religion but my father had been raised a Quaker and was a CO during WW2. He served, but as a psychologist in New Jersey, not on the front lines. He was against Vietnam from the beginning, thought Lyndon Johnson was an idiot for escalating the war. My mother was liberal politically, independent, ahead of her time, a working mom with 4 kids. My parents were united, not wanting any of their sons to go to a war they didn’t believe in. At 13 I was aware of Viet Nam and civil rights-they were talked (ranted!) about at the dinner table, but I was still pretty naïve. I can remember canvassing for Eugene McCarthy with a friend of my sister’s, not out any dedication to the cause but because I really liked her. During that time, the thing affecting me most was the assassination of Martin Luther King. Solving the disparity between blacks, minorities and whites took a huge hit and I lived it everyday while going to school. Our Santa Barbara neighborhood was white and wealthy, Milpas St. was black, Delavina St. hispanic, not so well off.

Between March and August of 1968 my mother had decided to go to Canada. Her reasoning was to provide a safe haven if my brother had to leave the US. We two younger sons were going with her. I saw it as a big adventure, we had been to Yellowstone, Banff and Oregon, camping, so I assumed Canada would be more rustic. We would be mountain men, not surfers. Some time at the beginning of August we packed up a 1958 Chevy station wagon with everything the family would need and started north. We visited my grandmother in Oregon, then hit the border at Osoyoos, Wednesday, August 28th. Within 2 hours we were landed immigrants.  My mother had researched job possibilities. Starting at Osoyoos we went north, with the idea of going through the Okanagan, then on to Banff, but she applied for work everywhere along the way. Friday afternoon we landed in Salmon Arm and she was told she could start work Monday morning. We found a motel that rented by the month and were home. I was going into grade 9, could walk to school and in retrospect I must have been a bit of a novelty. By October I did not want to return to California, but I missed my friends. But Canada was a wild, wonderful place. So when the Democratic national convention was on, Kent State happened, Nixon was elected, the Vietnam protests escalated, I was in Salmon Arm, and not really connected to all that. I was accepted easily because of sports. It was fun: I developed a ‘harem’ of girls who all had to be kissed “good morning” at the beginning of every school day. My older brother had a much tougher time fitting in, he was more introverted and a genius. People were intimidated. His motivation for staying in Canada was much more real, he did not want to go to Vietnam. My mother had a similar experience. She didn’t connect with anyone at work, missed her friends, and thought Canada, while beautiful, was backward. The three of us regularly camped at Yard Creek on weekends-a wonderful family time.

In the fall of 1969, my father was diagnosed with cancer. My brother stayed and finished Grade 12 in Salmon Arm, and we moved back to California over Christmas. At this point I was simply not very connected to the US–I was a visitor. My oldest brother was using student deferments to avoid service, so things were okay.  My mother decided she was going to tour Europe in the fall of 1970 (my father was better) and we kids could come if we wanted to. Another adventure! We toured Greece, Italy, Spain, France, and England in 1970/71. From Europe, we flew back to Montreal to avoid the US, and drove across Canada. My brother enrolled at SFU, and I was left with room and board in Salmon Arm. A story: I crashed my bike and tore up my knee, which became infected. I went to the doctor but knew nothing about gov’t provided medical. I walked out of the office with a cleaned up knee, and a lunch bag full of medical supplies. Free. Once again, humbled by the generosity of locals. I finished high school in 1973. I have really fond memories of hitch hiking the Trans-Canada and Highway 97 North, having adventures during those days. One time, I bullshitted a drunk welder coming out of Cache Creek, telling him I had a licence and could drive (he luckily passed out quickly) and made it all the way to Quesnel before leaving the truck on the side of the road. My goal was to see how far I could get on $5. My father died in the summer of 1973. I went on to UBC, and my brother was still at SFU. When I turned 18, I quit crossing the border, we had not registered with Draft Board 100, so we were not registered for the draft and technically illegal. My mother came north for good in 1976, the same year I became a citizen. I went for the citizenship hearing with my girlfriend as a character reference, the judge looked at her, then me, asked “is this your girlfriend?” “Yes” I answered. “Then you must be alright,” he said, and the hearing ended (she was better looking than I was).  

When I reflect on it now, I think I was similar to the girl in the photo at Kent State. I was not paying attention to the US much, as I felt Canadian and was cruising through the teen years, having a great time. My life directed by my parents, my living experiences happening mostly by chance. I have had conversations with friends of my older siblings who went to Vietnam. They describe the horror, some still suffering the effects of PTSD or agent orange, their lives were never the same. Others did amazing things to avoid service, dieting to be underweight, pretending to be crazy to get a dishonorable discharges. 

I am Canadian, incredibly grateful my mother made the effort to move, and that Canada allowed us to come.

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