At a wedding reception I attended earlier this month, my wife and I found ourselves at a table with 6 other people. Three of them were men about my age, fellow Baby Boomers. All of us were draft age during the Vietnam War.
As we talked, the subject of the Draft Lottery came up. On December 1, 1969, the United States held the first Draft Lottery since World War II. 366 blue plastic capsules, each containing a day of the year, were placed in a large container and drawn out one at a time. The future course of life for many males born between January 1, 1944 and December 31, 1950, depended on when the capsule containing their birthdate was drawn.
Without hesitation, each man at the table spouted their number. 316, 323, 325. Mine was 263. I thought my number was high but at that table I was the low man on the totem pole.
The draft lottery didn’t matter to me. I had already served in the Army National Guard for 3 years when the draft lottery took place. I owe that fortuitous decision to my parents. When I graduated from high school in 1966, the Vietnam War was starting to heat up. Not overly excited about starting college immediately, I informed my parents I planned to join the Army and go to Vietnam. Ah, nothing like being 18 years old and knowing everything.
Before I actually signed my name on the dotted line, my Dad suggested I consider joining the National Guard instead. It was a six-year commitment with six months active duty, and 5 1/2 years of Guard Drills one weekend each month and two weeks active duty every summer.
“You can go in for six months, see if you like it, and if you do you can tell them you want to stay on active duty and go to Vietnam. If you don’t like it, you can come home after six months and go to college” reasoned my Dad.
Somewhat incredibly, I took my parent’s advice. On December 10, 1966, I enlisted in the National Guard. On February 27, 1967, I boarded a bus in Springfield, Mo. bound for Columbus, Ga., home of Fort Benning. After spending 30 hours on a Greyhound Bus or in a Greyhound Bus station, I arrived at the United States Army Training Center at Fort Benning, Ga. There I would spend the next 9 weeks at Sand Hill learning to march, make a bunk to Army standards, learn to fire an M-1 rifle, and do a lot of push-ups.
After Basic Training, I rode another bus to Fort Rucker, Alabama for training as a helicopter repairman. I was back home in time to start the Fall semester at Southwest Missouri State College, now known as Missouri State University. I was in the best shape of my life, and I was very happy to be walking the halls of college rather than the jungles of Vietnam.
Tonight, about 4 hours from when I am writing this, a good friend of mine whose life took a different turn will be boarding a plane bound for Washington, D.C. On December 1, 1969, his birthdate was the 43rd drawn, a sure ticket to the draft. He served 2 years, half of it in Germany, and came home to resume his life. Tonight he will join 104 other veterans on an Honor Flight. Tomorrow they will visit the War Memorials in Washington on a well-planned, very tight schedule that will deliver them back to Missouri before midnight tomorrow night.
My hat is off to Central Missouri Honor Flight, a worthy cause serving those who have served their Country.
The ultimate honor belongs to those who answered the call and sacrificed their lives. In Vietnam alone, 58,220 died, and thousands more were injured.
Thank you to all who have served.
If you want to see how you would have fared in the 1969 Draft Lottery, find your birthday on this chart. September 14 was the first date drawn. June 8th was the 366th number chosen. No one above 195 was drafted. The last draft call was December 7, 1972.