The Vietnam War was raging, people of color were fighting for their rights, the women’s movement was just gaining steam. My generation was swept up in conflict. But like many young men in the late 1960's, my most intense personal struggle was with my draft board. It started shortly after my 18th birthday when I received my draft card in the mail. I stared at the card, memorized the numbers on it – 1A, Local Board #169, and the signature of the Board Secretary, Carolyn Copher. I bombarded my draft board with literature about the war. I sent missive after missive concerning my own attempt to be a conscienscous objector. I sent them packages of stuff just to take up more room in my files. I was doing my bit to choke the war machine on paperwork. I received a receipt for each of these from the draft board, all signed “Carolyn Copher, Board Secretary.”
The draft board wasn’t just on the receiving end in this mini-war. They had an offense too!. I’ve lost track of how many notices I received to appear for a physical, to be examined by a psychiatrist, to come in for a hearing, and orders to appear to be inducted into the U.S. military – all of them signed by Carolyn Copher, Board Secretary.
This woman was trying to get me killed or put in jail. I tried to imagine what this tool of the military/industrial complex looked like. She had to be old, I thought, and ugly! She’s never had sex and that explains why she can do what she does. That was before I met Carolyn.
I went to the draft board to put even more fodder into my file. She was sitting at her desk surrounded by file cabinets. I handed her the new documentation to be filed. I asked which drawer was mine. She responded that I had the a whole cabinet to my self! Our eyes met and we giggled. She didn’t look or act like the wicked witch of the East.
One day I read in the local newspaper that as a result of a sting operation, Local Board #169's secretary had been arrested for accepting a bribe. Some wealthy kid figured he was going to bust the draft by busting a local board secretary. He went to the FBI and told them he was going to offer Carolyn Copher $10,000 to get a student deferment and wouldn’t they like to wire him to get the goods on this corrupt individual. They did.
Carolyn Copher was facing 5 years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine. Ironically, this is the same punishment that I faced for refusing induction at the end of the paper war between myself and Local Board #169.
Walter Cronkite had by this time come out against the war. Paul Harvey had come out against the war. Public opinion had turned against the war.
Carolyn Copher was found guilty and received the maximum sentence.
A couple of days later I received a phone call from Carolyn Copher.
“I want to talk to you” she said. She gave me her address and directions.
I drove to a small dusty farm in the southwest part of the county. The house she lived in was small but neat. She was very pregnant. Born and raised in Fort Smith, Arkansas, she married young and moved to Miami. He bought the small farm and they went deep into debt. Carolyn took the civil service exam and got the job at the draft board. She told me how her husband left because life on the farm was too hard and didn’t come back even after he knew she was pregnant.
She told me how corrupt the draft board was. She told me how the bankers and business executives on the board got deferments for their friends and relatives. She told me that these people were determined to send me to prison. She told me the things they did to bolster the government’s case to silence me.
This corruption led to her corruption. She took the money. “Why not? I needed it - it’s not easy building a family on a secretary’s pay!”
Now she was facing jail, hard-time, Alderson Federal Penitentiary for Women. She was going to give birth in prison. She had the baby tested and knew that it had Down’s Syndrome.
We brought Carolyn’s story to the U.S. Attorney. He wasn’t interested. The local underground paper ran the story but that was preaching to the choir. The mainstream media ignored the story.
To my brothers registered at Local Board #169, Carolyn Copher represented the draft, the war – everything that was evil. I know that some people cheered when she got caught. I couldn’t cheer. Catching Carolyn wasn’t the same as stopping the draft or ending the war and social injustice. We aimed too low.
I don’t know what happened to Ms. Copher after that. I do know that she was another casualty of the war. I also know that the people responsible for the war - the people responsible for deciding who got deferments and who did not, maintained their lofty positions in society. They didn’t go to jail–their sons didn’t go to war. Carolyn Copher paid for their sins.