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By the time I was ready to enlist (late 1942) enlistments were no longer being accepted, but it was possible to volunteer for induction–whatever that meant.  Such volunteers got army serial numbers beginning with 3, just like draftees.  Can you tell me just what the legal/technical distinction was between enlistees and draftees?  Incidentally, we weren’t inducted into the United States Army, but into the Army of the United States.

Earl Call

Dear Mr. Call,

The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, which signaled the return of the U.S. military draft as employed during World War I, was meant to control how many people entered service, so that no more than 900,000 would be in training at any one time. Whether one enlisted prior to December 5, 1942 or “volunteered for induction” thereafter, as opposed to waiting to get that Draft Board letter that began “Greetings,” one had some say as to which branch of service and even specialty within that service one chose. Draftees, on the other hand, were assigned wherever the Draft Board saw the most need (usually Army infantry, with the Marines getting more later). My father, for example, lied his way past a 4-F to get into the Navy before December 5, 1942, and got into the 59th Construction Battalion before someone noticed his talents as a photographer and he was put on “detached duty” (for the duration as it turned out) with Captain Edward Steichen’s roving team. By 1943 the Selective Service was limiting the amount of people getting in so that some could be kept in war industries or other war-related endeavors in which their experience or qualifications would make them more useful.

As for what the U.S. Army is still formally called (Army or Armies of the United States, or AUS), it is also referred to in article 2 of the Constitution as “land forces of the United States.”


Jon Guttman, Research Director