"It was not my desire to go off and serve in Vietnam, but nor did I take any actions to remove myself from the pool of young men who were eligible for the draft," Romney told the newspaper.
But that's exactly what Romney did, according Selective Service records. He received his first deferment for "activity in study" in October 1965 while at Stanford.
As Soltz notes, the younger Romney was under no obligation to seek a college-related deferment.
"Vietnam was a war that the poor and the people who couldn't afford to go to college had to go to," Soltz said.
After his first year at Stanford, Romney qualified for 4-D deferment status as "a minister of religion or divinity student." It was a status he would hold from July 1966 until February 1969, a period he largely spent in France working as a Mormon missionary.
He was granted the deferment even as some young Mormon men elsewhere were denied that same status, which became increasingly controversial in the late 1960s. The Mormon church, a strong supporter of American involvement in Vietnam, ultimately limited the number of church missionaries allowed to defer their military service using the religious exemption.
But as fighting in Vietnam raged, Romney spent two and a half years trying to win Mormon converts in France. About that same time, Romney's father would famously speak out against Vietnam, declaring that he had been "brainwashed" by military officials into supporting the conflict.
Young Romney's comments indicated his support had waned, too.
"If it wasn't a political blunder to move into Vietnam, I don't know what is," a 23-year-old Romney would tell The Boston Globe in 1970 during the fifth year of his deferment.
His 31-month religious deferment expired in early 1969. And Romney received an academic studies deferment for much of the next two years. He became available for military service at the end of 1970 when his deferments ran out and he could have been drafted. But by that time, America was beginning to slice its troop levels, and Romney's relatively high lottery number — 300 out of 365 — was not called.
Romney's past may not be enough to hurt his popularity in this year's election among veterans, who typically lean Republican.
A Gallup survey released last week found that veterans prefer Romney over Obama by 58 percent to 34 percent. That voting bloc, consisting mostly of older men, makes up 13 percent of the adult population. Obama won the presidency four years ago while losing veterans by 10 points to Sen. John McCain, a former Navy pilot.
Still, some veterans say Romney's reluctance to serve irks them.
"I volunteered for the draft. Romney could have, too. Simple as that," said Wade Lieseke, of Nevada, who served as a helicopter gunner in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970.
Associated Press Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.
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