My story is much like many draft age men in December 1969. I was a 5th year Architectural Senior, recently married, and living in an off-campus non-UK apartment on North Main Street in Lexington. Since architecture was a five year program, I needed a clarification sent to my local draft board from UK so they didn’t think I was sand-bagging the system by not finishing in the four years allowed in a student deferment. I was not in favor of the Vietnam war and the way the politicians were waging it, so I felt that putting off the draft as long as possible was in my best personal interest. I had three close friends from high school who were sent to Vietnam in 1969. One didn’t return, one almost defected to Canada, and one loved the experience of war. To make matters worse, staying out of the military was NOT an option for me as my father was not only a veteran but the head of the draft board in my home county of Boyd.
The night of the draft lottery my wife picked me up from Pence Hall and we headed home to listen to the lottery on the radio. At the time of this life-changing event for millions of young men there was no internet, no CNN, no "breaking news", but yet a great interest among the UK male student population–many of us had been tallking about the lottery all week.
By the time we arrived home and found the station they were already on No. 33. OK, so we had missed the first 32 dates. We crossed our fingers (and legs and toes and eyes) and listened intently to the dates…hoping against hope they would not call my birthdate. We went through No. 50, then No. 100 then 200 then 300 then 350 without hearing my birthdate. We looked at each other with only 15 more numbers to go, and 32 at the beginning we hadn’t heard…the outlook was grim.
As we resigned ourselves to listen all the way to the end of the numbers, they called January 27 at No. 355, just 10 from the end. We jumped for joy, screamed and hugged each other…it was a marvelous day, at least for us. It was almost a certainty that No. 355 would not be called into service. That meant we could actually start to plan our lives and not have to put the future on hold for two years while I served in the Army, or four years in the Air Force or Navy. There was little need for a graduate but unlicensed architect in any of the services, so my education would have had little value to them as a non-com.
After it had sunk in we decided to go back to campus to see how our friends had made out. We went to the Two Keys where we found two distinct groups of students: those who drew numbers under 100, and those over 300. In both groups we knew our fate for the draft and for Vietnam. Some in the low-number group talked of finishing the semester and then enlisting, to have their time in service start (and end) as soon as possible, and to have some money from the G.I. Bill to fund the remainder of college. Some of the low numbers started to think about heading to Canada or trying to join the Air Force. Those of us with high numbers began to feel guilty about our good fortune and bought beers for the other group. The evening started raucously with bravado and loud announcements of numbers, but ended with a somber tone as it all started to sink in.
I still thank God for not "winning" this lottery. My life turned out quite well with two wonderful children, a successful architectural career, a deep love for our country and respect for the brave men who served in Vietnam. I am so very proud that a young achitectural student, Maya Lin, submitted the chosen design for the Vietnam memorial on the mall in Washington. It is so respectful and appropriate for this military engagement. Lin’s design concept was to create a breach in the earth to symbolize the gravity of the loss of 58,000 soldiers, and the deep wound inflicted on the nation. The "wall" has one leg pointing toward the Lincoln memorial, and one leg pointing toward the Washington Monument. This design was at first controversial, as it did not fit the mold of a traditional war memorial, but then Vietnam did not fit the mold of a traditional war. I have visited the memorial many times–alone, with my WW II veteran father, with my children, with my wife, with friends and business associates. I have been reduced to tears when finding two names I knew well. I will continue to go back and say a prayer for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.