I lived in Avery dorm and on the night of the drawing the 6’10" center of the basketabll team was crowing after the basketball game that he had number 1–but of course his height exempted him from service. 208 was my dorm room number and draft number and put me in limbo according to the smart money. Not the certain doom of a single digit number, but not the comfort of 250 or higher. If ESPN had been calling the lottery I would have been "on the bubble".
I went to Raleigh in April with some other guys from the dorm for our physical and intelligence tests. Aced the physical and passed the intelligence test with the lowest possible score (college students weren’t allowed to fail) but my struggles with conceptually assembling boxes and other multidimensional objects and identifying the proper tool to disassemble a carburetor or machine gun or the like probably did little for my future prospects in OCS, much less the supply corps or the motor pool. We went back to Chapel Hill and I saw MASH that night at the Varsity Theater. I sure hoped that 208 was going to be high enough to exempt me from service.
My family moved to Cambridge, England that summer and I went with them. I decided to apply for conscientious objector status. As a history major I consulted a lot of books and wrote a very good term paper concluding that an imperial power couldn’t defeat a local insurgency. My main source, the War of the Flea, is being used for training in Iraq, but the Scotland County NC draft board was not impressed. Still 1-A.
That summer the Selective Service was calling people up much faster than anyone had anticipated. I think by August 1st they were at 195. I had been awarded a fellowship for post-graduate study and was considering staying in England and using it at the University of London if my number came due, but in the meantime I decided to spend three or four weeks on the Continent before I went home (or stayed in England). I vividly remember taking a night train from Paris to Munich and sharing a sleeping compartment with four young European women and a Hungarian guy who could speak about nine languages. I envied him tremendously. Arriving in Munich I found a room in an old building that had probably been grand before the war. I was told by the landlady that I would be sharing the room, and as the first person to arrive I said the single bed would be fine. I was more than happy with that choice when my roommate and I returned from a day of sightseeing to find that we now had another roommate, and that my roommate would be sharing the same double bed with the new arrival. This seemed very strange, and I somewhat distractedly asked our new roommate about himself and his draft status. He had a high number, but when I reported my number of 208 he said the Selective Service had announced they were stopping the draft for the remainder of the year. I probably shook him pretty hard, but he confirmed that 195 was as high as they were going. My new best friends and I went out and drank beer, a lot of beer.
Because of my lucky number I was able to go to graduate school at Indiana University that September with no worries. I wasn’t a very good graduate student, but I did meet my future wife there, and we decided to go to Europe for as long as our limited funds would last. In those days they lasted a good while. We were living in Paris when the peace accords were signed finally ending the war. I recall seeing limousines carrying the North Vietnamese delegation roaring toward the French Foreign Ministry and thinking how lucky I was to have avoided the whole mess. Two years later we were living in Boston and I was celebrating my birthday on April 30, 1975 as the helicopters evacuated the embassy in Saigon. Thank you again 208.