Early Shades of Conscience and a Conversation/Confrontation with Dad


(Dan when a Freshman at Duke with Chip at the Naval Academy; click to expand)

Each NROTC midshipman had to swear allegiance to the United States Constitution and to follow the orders of superior military officers to protect our country against all enemies, foreign, and domestic. He must agree willingly, and not under any force or coercion.

The coercion from my Dad’s pressure about the decision made matters worse. Time was closing in on me. In twenty-four hours, I had to pursue an eight-year contract, or drop out. Recalling the professor on the train to Florida who said the National Guard could shoot civilians at civil rights demonstrations when they refused to follow police orders,  made me feel a dread the Navy would soon own me. These thoughts crashed into my mind and left me in a sweat in bed that evening.

The next morning my meeting with the counselor occurred. “Follow your conscience,” he said after interviewing me at length. “Only you can make your own life’s choices. No one should feel they must do what their father wants. Consider what your father and family will think and all the alternatives.”Then he looked me squarely in the eye like my grandmother would when anyone she loved faced a serious life decision. “Many parents believe they owe their sons and daughters a good education without coercion about choice of study, but not all can afford Duke, so it makes an NROTC scholarship desirable,” he offered placing the ball in my court.

Staring out into space as if my mind had encountered an impenetrable fog, I realized he understood my dilemma. Mortified and unnerved, “Thanks. You’ve helped me,” I said.

Considering my options on my knees, I discussed them with Steve, and decided to change my life’s course. The pre-ministerial program offered me the best option and that left open the possibility of baseball if I excelled at Duke.


(Duke Chapel at West Campus)

An hour before the swearing in ceremony I arrived at the NROTC office. “I can’t attend the ‘swearing in ceremony’ due to religious beliefs, will enter the pre-ministerial program, and drop my NROTC scholarship,” I said to the officer in charge.

“Are you sure?” he asked with a quizzical look.


His expression became stern, “You must speak with your father before the ceremony and report the outcome to me.”

During the next thirty minutes I wrote a script of what I should say to Dad, knowing he would try to change my mind and criticize me. Shaking from nerves, I called the Commanding Officer of Military Sea Transportation Service in Washington, D.C.“Captain Lavery will answer from his office,” an office worker said.

(Captain Richard J. Lavery, Jr. USN)

(Click to expand)

“Hello, Dan.”

“Dad, I’ve decided to drop my NROTC scholarship…

“You did what?” blasted my ears from Dad’s shrill interruption.

…and enroll in the pre-ministerial program at Duke.”

Outraged, he tried to interrupt, but I continued my first sentence.

“Why have you done this immature thing?”

Taking a deep breath and trying to sound calm and rational, but with my hands and legs shaking, and my voice wavering with emotion, “I prayed about this decision, Dad.”

“You’re throwing away a future as a naval officer.”

“An adviser warned me of the consequences.”

“Have you lost your mind?”

“He felt sure you wouldn’t support my decision.”

“This is unacceptable.”

I took a breath, “He emphasized I should follow my conscience.”

“You’re about to make the worst decision of your young life,” Dad said in a gasp.

“He warned me I would face criticism for waiting so long.”

“Damn it Danny, you’ll live to regret this.”

“He said I should do what I want to do in my life; not what anybody else wants.”

“The hell with him. You mustn’t do this.”

“I’m sorry I led you to believe a naval career was what I wanted for my future.”

“Do you understand me?"

“I know you and Chip chose the Navy.”

“You can’t do this.”

“The Duke Football team pays for my meals.”

“You’ll be throwing away an extremely valuable scholarship.”

“I’ll only need to pay for my books and room.”

“You’ll cost me money I don’t have.”

“Please accept I’ve made up my mind.”

“I can’t afford Duke.”

“Duke will pay my tuition.”

“You must reconsider now before it’s too late.”

“I have to make my own choice.”

“You’ll cost me much more than you think.”

“I have decided.”

“You’re acting selfish.”

“The officer in charge stated I had to speak to you...

“You’ll regret this for the rest of your life.”

…before I inform him of my final decision.”

“Take out a piece of paper.”

“I’m sorry you don’t agree with me …”

“Write the cost to me of everything caused by you dropping the scholarship.”

“…but, I’ve made the decision.”

“No, I won’t accept this.”

“I’m going to inform him I’ve spoken to you…”

“You’ve made a very foolish decision.”

“…and you’re not happy with it…”

“You’ll regret this.”

“…But I’ve decided what I must do.”

“How could you throw away this scholarship?”

“I must leave now as the ceremony begins shortly.”

“Danny, Don’t…”

“Goodbye, Dad, I have to go.”

Turning and walking to the officer in charge, I said shaking from my father’s attack, “I have told my father of my decision to drop the NROTC scholarship.” His angry expression told me to leave his office.

“Very well Mr. Lavery, I’m sure a happy replacement will fill your spot. Stay here for awhile. You must sign papers to make your decision official.”

My body trembled as I signed the documents. Running to my dorm to release the stress, I informed Steve of the conversation. He tried to help calm me down, but waiting until the last minute made the situation as bad as possible. Unequipped to buck Dad’s plans for me until an intelligent counselor focused my mind to face the consequences, I felt confident the NROTC was not right for me and needed to explore my options without Dad’s coercion. Abandoned by my father when I had finally asserted myself to follow my conscience against his plan for me, I was still unsure of my future. To the officer in charge and my father, I had disrupted the routine of the conveyer belt that moved military men into endless mechanical motions before they had a chance to grasp their freedom. Now my future would depend on my decisions as I had dodged an eight year train to the military life.

Dad wrote a series of nasty letters to me from that day for the next two months. The first three demanded details for every dime he had to pay from my decision. He referred to me as immature, unable to make decisions, unstable, and a failure. The barrage came at a time I needed to take charge of my future, prepare for an adventure in advanced academics, seek intellectual stimulation, and embrace personal discovery. Instead, he bombarded me with critical letters and phone calls repeating the drumbeat of my failings. After grueling football practices, I was depressed instead of enthusiastic.

(Click twice to read: Post card to Grampa after Duke Finals,Note in the Duke Paper about varsity baseball prospects, and Dan at Athens the next month as Merchant Marine)

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