C. J. DeMarco advertised a Support the Draft Club at the start of the school year with a booth manned by fellow students dressed in military garb, a Soviet soldier's photograph on a dart board and slogans lauding big business, strong defenses and anticommunism.
Some saw it as a lark, but C.J. said he was serious, and 127 Walt Whitman High School students signed their names to the club roster.
The second round of draft registration passed quietly early this month, and a continuous registration for all men turning 18 is now in effect. Many of those required to register are high school seniors, and getting into college or finding a job are more immediate concerns than the draft.
To most of these students, born in the 1960s, Vietnam is only a word in a history book. Iran's taking of American hostages and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan are more likely to have affected their opinions. As a result, pro-registration and pro-draft sentiment are more widespread among area youths than at any time in the recent past.
"I used to be against the draft," said DeMarco, whose club has since disbanded. "But the only reasons people gave for opposing it were that they don't want to kill anyone or it's an infringement on their personal freedom. Infringement on their freedom is a selfish point of view. And not wanting to kill, well, sometimes that's the last resort.
"War is inevitable in our kind of world. It should be avoided at all costs, but I take the realistic point of view. So it looks like we better have the draft," he said.
Starting this month, all men are required to fill out draft registration forms at a local post office within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Failure to register can bring a five-year jail term and a $10,000 fine. No one has been prosecuted, Selective Service Officials said.
"Most of the kids who are required to register have been registering," said Nathan Pearson, principal of Seneca Valley High School in Germantown. At Seneca Valley the pledge of allegiance to the flag, once discontinued as a daily observance because of student protest, was started again a year and a half ago every Monday morning at student request.
"The trend among kids, for reasons not entirely known to me, is increasingly conservative and increasingly compliant," he said. "When asked to do something at school, we used to get a whole lot of resistance. That's not the case anymore."
Mike Michaelson, administrative assistant to the superintendent for student affairs, said he thought when Carter signed the executive order last spring, it would become a raging issue. "I had anticipated visible, more vocal anti-registration, a resurrection of the anti-war movement," he said.
Michaelson, who has been working since 1960 with student leaders in the Montgomery County Region of Maryland Association of Student Councils, said students' views reflect a change in the nation at large. "The old-fashioned idea of service to country has re-emerged and not because people have been preaching it."
He has noticed a passiveness among students. "There's a general lack of interest in the draft and a sense of obligation about registering. It's very different from the 1960s. Kids then would sooner flatten themselves in front of a tank than sign a piece of paper," he said.
Ask most students about Vietnam and the answer is often silence or a mumbled, "I really don't know much about it."
"Vietnam? That's a little before me. I can't really say whether it was right or wrong," said David Fisher, a Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School student who turns 18 at the end of March.
"My problem is that I don't see anywhere that the Soviets have shown a willingness to cooperate with the nuclear arms treaty. My opinion is that the United States has sat around for awhile and the Soviets have taken advantage of us. The only thing to do is to build up and force them to compromise.
"I support the draft and thing that eventually, under (Ronald) Reagan, there will be a return to the draft. I wouldn't like being drafted, but if I am, I'll surely go." said the college-bound senior.
Eric Evans, a student at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, said one thing that influenced him was President Carter's military cutbacks: "All that's doing is painting a perfect mental picture in everyone else's mind about how weakened the United States has become."
Evans, who will be 18 in February, said he was for the draft, "with the condition women go with us. Times have changed. Women are just as capable as we are."
Fisher agreed. "When I talk about the draft, I consider men and women," he said. "I think if women are serious about the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), they should be drafted. I'd have problems being drafted if women weren't."
The protestors are a minority, sometimes even a harrassed minority, and many try to hide what has become an unpopular position.
Roger Hecht, a classmate of Evans, is against the draft and takes part in anti-nuclear demonstrations in Washington. Sometimes he puts up anti-draft posters at school.
"I'e been threatened and branded as a communist because of my political views," he said. "It's usually verbal abuse, but one guy pulled a wood lathing tool on me. Fiftheen years ago I wouldn't have been in a minority position."
Will he register for the draft when he turns 18 this June? "I really don't want to register but my parents have given me an ultimatum that if I don't register, they won't pay for college," he said.
"Surprisingly enough, there's no talk at all about registration," said John Day, a social studies teacher at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville. "I would have thought there would have been some students who thought registration was wrong. This is especially true for many of us who went through the draft before and were either vocal in our opposition or encouraged others to be.
"I was a draft counselor in the 70s and worked with people on alternatives to the draft. It's hard for me to believe there is no discussion now, that people accept what the government says at face value," he said.
Richard Montgomery student Peter Cromwell wrote in a school newspaper commentary: "Today a draft or some other form of mandatory military service is vital to protect the security of the United States. In these days of threatening Soviets expansion all over the globe, a large and effective fighting force is necessary to retain respect, if not authority."
A group of students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase believe that they and their fellow students don't know enough about world politics to take a stand on the draft, and have formed a club to make themselves more aware of current events.
Charlotte Oldham, 15, conceived of it as a draft counseling club, but the students did not agree on whether the club would be for or against the draft, so they changed the group's name to Student Union to Promote Awareness (SUPA).
"For the group's survival, it has to be awareness of people won't come to our meetings," she explained. "It's the stigma of the left."
They meet Thursdays after school to discuss current political issues, focusing one meeting on El Salvador, another on Polish workers, a third on on the arms race.
"SUPA's a meager attempt to arouse a few people," said Oldham. "We can't take a stand because people shut you out. They say you're a radical agitator and I'm not. Our only opportunity is to try to be middle of the road. A lot of people felt we weren't being up front because a lot of us were anti-draft."
"Not too many people are strongly for or against draft registration because there isn't a war yet. They think of it as long-term thing," said "Sundance" Meletsky, a 16-year-old member of SUPA, who stands out among her conservatively dressed peers with her green army jacket and protest buttons.
Selective service officials said that last summer 3.7 million men registered, out of an estimated 3.88 million men born in 1961, and 5,000 late registrants have been coming in every week.
Some people feel registration this month, for men born in 1962, was not protested because fewer people were aware of it and there was less advertising from the Selective Service.
The Selective Service said there was less need for publicity this time around. "People were sensitized by last summer. If you were a man born in 1962, or the parents of one, you would have noticed it," said Brayton Harris, assistant director of the Selective Service.
"Last summer it was a hot item. But the controversy has gone away. People realize that registration does in fact help. It's not just a political drill but is a definite improvement in our capability," he said.
Harris said that before the round of registration last summer, the estimates of lead time the United States would gain in an emergency by having men already registered ranged anywhere from seven to 120 days.
"No one knew.Once we did registration, we knew how long it really took.It took four weeks to set up registration and at least another week to gather materials after the registration was over. With pre-registration, if an emergency were to break out, within 28 days we would have to put into uniform 100,000 men and continue at a rate of 7,000 a day. Without registration in advance, the first person would be arriving at the post office on the 28th day," he said. It would take that amount of time to publicize the draft and get the forms, to the post offices, according to Selective Service.
"It's a very cheap insurance policy. It gives us a clear one month head start," Harris said.
He said that President Reagan based his stand against registration in part on the uncertainty of its value in lead time. With the new data, Selective Service officials say Reagan may change his mind.