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Dear Mr. History,

I’m an author of historical fiction researching my upcoming book which features a young man in July 1943 during the days leading up to and subsequent to his 18th birthday. He’s eager to serve in spite of an anxiety disorder which causes him to faint–an ailment he keeps secret.
My questions are:
– How soon after his 18th birthday would he have been required to register?
– By July 1943, were registered men immediately enlisted or was the lottery still being used?
– What was the penalty for failing to register and how/when was this penalty enforced? By whom?
– How extensive were medical examinations used to determine combat readiness?
– Would men with conditions such as his still have been enlisted? Would they have served in any special capacities if they were willing?
I appreciate any help or resources you can provide!

Herb Williams-Dalgart




Dear Mr. Williams-Dalgart,

Regarding the Burke-Wadsworth Act of September 16, 1940 (the first peacetime draft in American history) as modified on November 13, 1942, male white citizens between ages 18 and 37 were required to register, with the former doing so within 30 days of their 18th birthday. The Selected Service, commanded by Maj. Gen. Lewis B. Hershey, was an independent organization charged with enforcing the draft and its personnel would arrest anyone who failed to comply, resulting in imprisonment for up to five years and/or fines that could be as high as $50,000. As many as 6,000 people were imprisoned during World War II, mostly Jehovah’s Witnesses or conscientious objectors who failed to convince the Selective Service of their CO status (of those who did, 25,000 served in non-combat roles, most famously as field medics, and another 12,000 in civilian public service camps). The lottery system was still in use in July 1943, and in that year the Selective Service opened registration to African Americans, but limiting their induction to 10 percent of those registered. In the first year of the draft, some 50 percent of those registered were rejected due to health or illiteracy. Once the shooting war was under way, however, medical examinations became more lax, as when my father, after being rejected for eye and ear deficiencies by the U.S. Army, lied and finagled his way into the Navy and went on to a rather distinguished tour of duty as a Seabee and a combat photographer by July 1945.

In regard to an anxiety disorder, it is unlikely that an enlistee would get far past training with that condition, if it was noticed by his drill instructors, and most likely would have been transferred out of a front-line unit if he made it that far. The last thing any serviceman needed was someone who might let him down at a crucial moment. He would probably be reassigned to a support or administrative role, where he could still be useful.



Jon Guttman

Research Director

World History

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