Silver Laughter’s Mick Orton and the Viet Nam War

We Won't Go!

We Won’t Go!

During The Contents Are: days, the Vietnam War was going on. We were all opposed to it as was a lot of America, especially since the draft was being used, and we were of draft age. In the fall of 1968 I was enrolled at St. Ambrose College studying (barely) Engineering. Most of my time was spent writing music in one of the music rooms, or goofing off with Jon Ludtke and skipping classes.

As long as a young man like me was enrolled in higher education, he got a college deferment.  Unfortunately for me, three of my classes were all related around advanced math, and I failed all three. Not showing up for class also didn’t help. So I knew it was bad. My grades (or lack of them) arrived in the mail that spring, and I hid them from my mom and dad. Typical avoidance!

I cruised through the summer working at the Post Office and playing music with The Contents Are: at night. But eventually my mother found the transcript while cleaning up my room, and I had to really face the music! A letter arrived from St. Ambrose that summer saying because of my poor academic performance, I was not going to be allowed to return. Can you say, “Army”?

However, I tried to string it out by telling the draft board that I was going back to school in the fall. Unfortunately for me, the college reported that I wasn’t as they were required to do, and I became 1A at the end of the summer. But fate intervened. It was 1969, and the Selective Service had started a new lottery system.

The days of the year including February 29 were given numbers 1-366 and then drawn from a drum after they were mixed up. This way they would decide who got called up and in what order. For example, the number 258 was drawn first which meant young men with the birth date September 14 were the unlucky “winners”. I think the number for my December 28th birthday was 164.

This gave me some breathing room for a couple of months, but I did have to report and take a bus to Des Moines to get my physical. One of the guys I had worked with at McDonald’s while in high school, Steve Reed, was also on the trip. Years earlier I had dated his sister, Randi, a knockout who I met while playing the fair with the Assassination of Sound (Jon Ludtke, Steve Lee, Paul Hardesty and me). Steve and I decided to go AWOL by playing hookie from the barracks that night and hung out with some hippies in Des Moines.

We got all sorts of advice on how to beat the physical; everything from eating a bar of unsweetened chocolate which would throw off our blood tests to saying we were conscientious objectors. All I know is, we stayed up all night and arrived at the testing facility really tired. I thought my flat feet would get me out. Not a chance. They were taking anyone and everyone. We spent the day there jumping through hoops, and then took another bus ride home.

I was really worried, and I guess it got to me because I ended up getting really sick. My intestine perforated, and I wound up in the hospital for 2 weeks after having a foot of my bowel removed. The day I got out of the hospital, my orders to report for duty arrived in the mail. My doctor said, “No way.” I was now classified as 4F. The only bad result from that episode was the bad blood I got in a transfusion.

Back then they didn’t screen like they do now so a lot of homeless people who sold their blood to blood banks had hepatitis. One of them passed hep B along to me. It stayed dormant for a long time. In one of my articles I talk about getting an outbreak of jaundice during our recording of “Handle With Care” years later. It was from this transfusion.

While I was out of commission recovering from that surgery, The Contents Are: kept performing without me. They had a friend, Denny Kline, who took my place so they could continue playing. I actually went to hear them near the end of my recovery and was dying to get up on stage and perform.

Mick Orton

Categories: History

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