Part of my motivation for writing my second book, My Knight in Shining Armor, was to create a memorial for a close friend. As always, however, my main motivation was the enjoyment of writing.
I am slightly older than most Vietnam veterans, but I was a sophomore in college when the Cuban missile crises erupted. At the time, all men were subject to the draft, but so few men were actually being drafted that our draft boards tended to wait several years before even classifying men. Students were eligible for student deferments, and Northwestern University required all male students to register for a deferment which would give us a 2S classification but extend our years of draft liability. Thus we found ourselves in the lounge of the dorm listening to the news. If Russia did not back off, it appeared we would be at war with Russia, probably in Cuba. We pulled out our draft cards and began discussing the draft. Few of us had even been classified yet, and a few had higher level classifications than 2S, but the rest of us either had 2S or had reason to believe we would be classified 2S for as long as we stayed in college. Nevertheless, we found ourselves discussing if our 2S classifications might be pulled if the country went to war.
The Russian bear blinked. Russian ships carrying missiles to Cuba turned back. The crisis was over, but a few months later, President Kenedy sent Green Berets to South Vietnam to train and assist the South Vietnam army fight Communist fighters. Within eighteen months, we were engaged in an all out war in Vietnam. Our student deferments were honored, but others were being drafted. Any student who graduated or left college was drafted quickly.
Most of my high school friends were old enough to escape the draft, but of my high school friends who went to college, most were drafted the moment they left school. In particular, most of those who became lawyers, took a law clerkship between college and law school. They were all drafted while serving their clerkships and served in the army before going to law school.
One of my good college friends was an engineering student, George Stivers. He was a year ahead of me, but because the engineering curriculum allowed students to alternate quarters their last two years between “coop jobs” and the classroom, George graduated at the same time my future wife and I did. Westminster House was the Presbyterian campus ministry. George, the girl I eventually married and I were among the 30 to 50 students who gathered at Westminster House on Sunday evenings. We would share a meal (price $.50) and discuss the Bible.
George’s coop job was with the army corps of engineers, helping to design dams. He liked the work and pondered joining the army after graduation because he thought army engineers had advantages over civilian engineers employed by the corps. The three of us graduated in 1965. I headed off to graduate school which preserved my 2S status. We more or less lost track of George until February 1967 when I read an obituary in the Alumni News for 2nd Lt. George Stivers (Engineering ’65), killed in action.
I eventually learned that George had gone to Europe after graduation and had received his draft notice while in Europe. It appear he enlisted and applied for a direct commission on the basis of his college degree. Years later, the traveling Vietnam Wall came to my community and I looked George up. He was listed as a member of the Oklahoma National Guard. Because of his engineering degree and his desire to design dams for the Corps of Engineers, I simply presumed he had been an engineering officer.
As a writer, a lot of thing stimulate my imagination. I had known the happy, friendly George who loved to tell jokes. I began wondering what he must have been like as a soldier. I further wondered what might have happened to him after the war if he had survived.
Before long I found myself writing My Knight in Shining Armor as a memorial to George. My desire was to give George, in fiction, a chance to practice his chosen career and a chance to have the romance he deserved.
I had to fabricate a military career for George. I expected him to have been one of the brave but quiet type who rise to the occasion in the face of danger without bragging about his bravery afterward. Certainly he would not have been a coward.
I was not aware of him having had any serious girlfriend in college so I had to find one for him. As a result I made a composite of several of the girls who had been in college with us and fictionally arranged for George and the girl to meet both in college and after his return from war. I will confess the composite woman I created for George is a little exotic, especially in her drive to find the perfect mate, but in the early ’60’s many woman went to college in the hopes of getting an education and at the same time finding a husband. I will excuse my heroine’s eccentricities on the basis that such exoti characters help make good fiction.
I wish George had survived and lived a long and fruitful life. I would feel more comfortable knowing our dams were designed by George. As it is, I know that George, a born again Christian, is comfortable in Heaven with his Lord. May his memory be rewarded with a career and romance in fiction.
My Knight in Shining Armor was published by Tate Publishing. It is available from Tate Publishing and through all of the usual booksellers on line and in book stores. If it is not on the shelf, you book store should be able to order it for you. The book is featured on my website, www.congerbooks.info. Copies can also be ordered through my website. All copies ordered directly from me will be autographed.