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Byron V. Pepitone, 85; Directed Switch in '70s to Volunteer Military

September 16, 2003|From the Washington Post

Byron V. Pepitone, the Selective Service director whose tenure coincided with the end of the Vietnam War and the transition to an all-volunteer military, died Thursday at a hospital in Port St. Lucie, Fla., of complications from abdominal bleeding. He was 85.

Pepitone, an Air Force retiree and management specialist, was deputy director of Selective Service when President Nixon appointed him acting director in 1972. After his confirmation by the Senate the next year, he served as the top official overseeing military conscription until 1977. He resigned amid policy differences with President Jimmy Carter.

He served during a time when the military was transitioning to an all-volunteer force as it withdrew from Vietnam. The decades-old draft call-up ended in 1973, when Selective Service began administering a standby system of conscription.

The war ended in 1975, and Pepitone helped implement President Ford's offer of amnesty to the more than 10,000 draft evaders in exchange for alternative service and a pledge of allegiance.

With a nationwide job shortage and lack of job skills among many of the young participants, the amnesty program was less than successful. Pepitone said he also was disappointed by the "high non-cooperative attitude" of those the program was meant to reach.

He resigned in 1977 after Carter offered full and unconditional pardons for the draft evaders. After the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Carter pushed for a new draft registration law, which Congress passed the next year.

Byron Vincent Pepitone was born in New Brunswick, N.J., and served in the Army Air Forces in Europe during World War II. He joined the newly established Air Force in 1947 and retired in 1970.

Survivors include his wife of 64 years, Marolynn Mills Pepitone of Port St. Lucie; two sons, Byron Pepitone II of Port St. Lucie and James S. Pepitone of Plano, Texas; a sister; a brother; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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