I was a sophomore at NC State University in 1969 and remember the big buildup to lottery day. I was in Sigma Nu fraternity and in typical fraternity fashion we decided to make a social occasion of the event by hosting a "Lottery Party". All frat brothers and their dates gathered at the fraternity house with kegs in abundance and juke box blaring until time for the big event. The Vietnam war was raging and not a popular war at all. There was no sense of going to fight in a just and necessary war, as history remembered World Wars I & II. However I recall the many conversations about not wanting to go to war but willing to go if we had too…no talk at all about heading to Canada and dodging the draft.
I remember well all 40 frat brothers gathering around the TV to watch the drawing and putting $20 in a jar with $800 (a sizable sum in 1969) going to the lottery "winner", i.e. the brother with the lowest number, so he and his date/girlfriend could have a last big blowout weekend before he was called into service.
I remember my real brother, who was also a fraternity brother, hearing his birthday called early. I looked it up on the lottery web site and his birthday was number 33…not looking very good. My birthday popped up at No. 184…not exactly safe but certainly better than No. 33. I have some recollection of conversations with my parents about draft possibilities but nothing too serious early on….we adopted a wait and see attitude.
In 1970, my home town newspaper, The Carteret County News Times, which I received at college, began publishing lottery numbers called each week along with the projected numbers to be called the rest of the year in order to meet our county’s enlistment goal or quota for the year. In December of 1970, while I was home on Christmas break, it looked pretty clear that the county would not get to my number before the end of the year. I understood then that if you changed your military draft classification to I-A, eligible for immediate drafting, and your number wasn’t called, then you were safe from ever being drafted in the future. So I told my folks my plan to go I-A and off I went to see Ms Ruby Holland (funny how you remember some names after all these years), the clerk who coordinated the lottery for the county.
Long story short, the county ended up going well over the projected lottery number needed for that year but still did not reach No. 184 so on Jan 1, 1971 I was essentially home free from being drafted. I remember the feeling of relief I felt then but as I’ve gotten older find myself regretting that I did not have the military experience of serving my country. I have tremendous respect for the men and women who did serve in Vietnam as well as the men and women serving our country today.