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WHAT A DIFFERENCE A MILITARY DRAFT MAKES

The Gridiron Club, an invitation-only organization of fewer than 70 Washington reporters and columnists founded in 1885, exists almost solely to host an annual white-tie dinner attended by Supreme Court justices, Cabinet secretaries, congressional leaders and assorted celebrities. Every U.S. president since 1885 except Grover Cleveland has attended and endured the satirical skits and speeches needling the powerful, including every leader of the free world himself.

The Gridiron evening begins with the Marine Corps band playing, in turn, the anthems of each of the U.S. military services, during which dinner guests who served in that branch of the military stand in respect. I was invited to my first Gridiron dinner during the first Reagan administration and was interested to see which guests stood for which service song. When the Marine Corps hymn was played, I stood and looked to see who else was doing the same.

As I best recall, the former Marines included: Secretary of State George Shultz, White House chief of staff Jim Baker, Treasury Secretary Donald Regan, and U.S. Sens. John Glenn, D-Ohio, Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., John Warner, R-Va., Pete Wilson, R-Calif., Chuck Robb, D-Va., Jim Sasser, D-Tenn., and John Chafee, R-R.I. I do not know if Adlai Stevenson III, D-Ill., or Howell Heflin, D-Ala., was in attendance. In addition to several other dozen people I did not know, columnist Rowland Evans, humorist Mark Russell and PBS anchor Jim Lehrer - all former Marines - stood tall.

At the 2007 Gridiron dinner, only a handful of guests stood when the Marine Corps hymn was played.

I saw now-former Virginia Sen. Chuck Robb and Jim Lehrer, and, maybe, another four or five. The same was true for the songs of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Coast Guard. Probably fewer than one out of six male guests stood for any service anthem, when just a quarter of a century ago, at least two out of three men stood. That's one major difference between the all-volunteer military and a military draft for which all males must register.

Think about it: Of all the leading 2008 Republican presidential candidates, including Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich - all of whom were eligible for the draft - only John McCain has worn the uniform of his country.

2007, Mark Shields; distributed by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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