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Dukakis’ Army Stint in Korea Unremarkable

August 27, 1988 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The northern part of South Korea was a cold, boring place to be in the fall and winter of 1955-56 and, true to form, Michael Dukakis, decided to spend the time bettering himself.

Then a young Army private, he tried to learn to speak Korean.

″Time was really heavy on our hands,″ recalled Jay Levine, an Army colleage. ″There just wasn’t a lot to do. It really was pretty dull.″

Dukakis, like millions of other men, received a standard college deferment when the Korean conflict was at its height in the early 1950s. When he graduated in June 1955, he had already been accepted at Harvard Law School, as had Levine, his friend from Swarthmore.


″I could have gotten an additional student deferment if I had gone to law school ... but I was anxious to do my service,″ Dukakis said last week.

The Democratic presidential nominee recalled that shortly before he graduated, ″I went to my draft board and asked them to draft me just as soon as they could after I graduated from college, and they did.″

Frank Sieverts, Dukakis’ college roommate, recalled that ″when we graduated from Swarthmore, he was already in the process of volunteering for the draft. I don’t know that he was particularly looking forward to going into the Army, but it was something he knew he had to do and he decided to make the best of it.″

Dukakis and Levine, now a Manhattan lawyer, joined the Army together in the summer of 1955. After eight weeks of basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., the two were shipped off to the Korean peninsula, where the bloody war of 1950-53 had settled down to a nervous armistice.

Dukakis was in Korea 16 months - the bulk of his two-year Army career - and much of that time was spent at the United Nations base camp near the demilitarized zone.

Dukakis was in a specialized Army unit providing support of the U.N. commission which oversaw the ceasefire. Most of his time was spent as a clerk, typing and filing at the unit’s headquarters in a barren, muddy outpost.

Dukakis voiced the same complaint to Sieverts, who by then was at Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar. ″We exchanged letters and he described it there as cold and rainy. It was hard duty,″ said Sieverts.

Publicly, Dukakis is proud of his military record. ″It was after the truce had been signed but at a time when Korea was very much on a wartime footing. I’m very proud of that service,″ he said recently.

Levine recalled that ″it was pretty unpleasant. For example, there wasn’t much water. It was restricted because of the fear of infections, so that meant you got water in cans and you didn’t get many showers.″

″The countryside was desolate, both as a consequence of the war and because if there were any trees or shrubs, they were ripped up and used to burn to warm up,″ he said.

″The duty wasn’t demanding,″ Levine recalled. ″A lot of us counted the days until we got out. You had a lot of time on your hands and Michael, characteristically, decided to try to learn Korean. He spent a lot of time on that.″

The hitch in Korea also offered the chance to travel. ″For young men who had grown up in the northeastern United States, where we had, it was an opportunity to see some places you wouldn’t normally go,″ he said. For example, Dukakis went to Japan on one occasion, he said.

Time passed slowly but Dukakis fulfilled his duties, finishing his service with the rank of specialist third class.