In 1966 Department of Defense Chief Robert McNamara came up with what he conceived as a brilliant idea to fill the rapidly growing troop needs for Vietnam. The program he initiated with Lyndon Johnson's blessing was called "Project 100,000". Essentially the Project allowed DOD to recruit folks who were either medically handicapped, or whose mental capacities were less than normal. McNamara felt the program would achieve several objectives...some of them publicized, some not, with the biggest selling point being that Project 100,000 was part of Johnson's "War on Poverty".
For example, recruiting "mentally deficients" could be lost in battle and, except for the family, no one would put up much of a squawk. After all, were they not at war they'd be a burden on the nation's social safety net, or taking up space in some mental facility. Secondly, recruiting these "mentally deficients" took the pressure off of having to draft wealthy college boys. Publicly, the Johnson Administration just said the program was something of an "equal opportunity" program for society's outcasts.
Fast forward to the fall of 1967. I am a humble Airman, assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Goldsboro, North Carolina. I am "humping" (guarding) those "Buffs", those big nuclear loaded B-52's, working 9 days on and two days off.
When not "humping Buffs", I've got just enough energy left to launder and iron razor sharp creases in my fatigue pants, put my barracks bunk and locker in inspection shape, and put in a couple of hours of study for my next skill upgrade. In the few hours of leisure I might have been found in the barracks day room, trying to catch an episode of Gomer Pyle.
Alas, far too many times, when I entered the day room, I'd find my military brothers suffering a sermon from one Elvis W., formerly of Wichita, Kansas, one of those "Project 100,000" recruits, and as daft as a looney bird.
Right in the middle of a Sergeant Carter upbraid of ole Gomer, Elvis W. would leap up, stand in front of the television, then begin delivering a lecture about God's amazing ability to deflect bullets. At any hint of disbelief from us, Elvis would demand that someone walk over to the armory, check out a Smith and Wesson .38, and fire off a round, point blank, right at his heart.
Elvis W.'s tirade went on for several weeks, until finally someone reported him to the First Shirt. So, they hauled Elvis W. over to the Air Force shrinks, and found Elvis not firing on all cylinders. Elvis W. was eventually given a medical discharge and sent home.
Oh, if Elvis W. was an isolated case. Sadly, as I deployed over to Vietnam, I ran into several "Elvis's", folks who shot themselves in the foot, discharged their firearms at the clearing barrel, performed other acts of stupidity that left bystanders in awe.
Even more tragic, my military brothers have related battlefield stories of many of those Project 100,000 Elvis's...folks who didn't live a month, failing to ignore bunji sticks, poking their heads out when they shouldn't have, or grenaded themselves to death while squatting in a rice paddy.
Now you would have thought that, within the first year, Mr. McNamara might have seen the error of this ways. After all, each recruit from Project 100,000 had a big red "A" stamped on his service records, and were supposed to be closely monitored to see how they were faring. Sadly, the U.S. government continued recruiting these mentally deficients for five long years.....from 1966 to 1971.
In the aftermath, our government masters never revealed how many Project 100,000's died on the battlefield. Nor will they tell you that McNamara recruited far more than the 100,000. Over five years it might have been four times that many. Called "The Moron Corp", these poor unfortunates were said to have died in far greater numbers than their mentally normal counterparts.
A few years ago The Washington Monthly did an investigative report on Project 100,000. Though they could not discern the number of battlefield deaths, they were able to conduct followups on some who survived. The investigation revealed that those who were lucky enough to come home, had far higher rates of post war depression, divorce rates and, not surprisingly, made far less in civilian salary than their military peers.
You might be interested to know that I did a little research on Elvis W., curious to know how he fared. I learned that Elvis W. did indeed return to Wichita, that he married at least twice, and is currently working as a private security guard and lives in a trailer court.
I can only hope Elvis W. has surrendered the idea that he can survive a .38 round fired point blank at his heart.