I was in my 4th year of a Ph.D program at Wisconsin at that time, with a II-S deferment. My lottery number was 252. Some of my friends weren’t as lucky. One of them left for Canada, where he lives today. Another was drafted and served a tour in Vietnam, working mainly as a translator-interrogator (after getting special training in Vietnamese language); this rerouted his life, as I don’t think he ever finished his Ph.D. My older brother had already served in Vietnam in 1967-8, doing his tour after having completed an ROTC program at UCLA.  He survived the tour (graduating as a Captain) but got sick toward the end of it. About 15 years later he died of a cancer that the doctors associated with Agent Orange (listed as a secondary cause of death on his death certificate).  The draft, and the Vietnam War, changed many lives.

In the year before the lottery, the Selective Service decided to have those on student deferment status "tested". The working assumption seemed to be that many marginal students were just hanging on, deliberately taking their time in college and even delaying graduation to sit out the war. So they came up with a test, revived I believe from the Korean war days. We took the "test to save our lives" in the fieldhouse, with marginal lighting conditions, sitting on benches and using lapboards. There was an established minimum score needed to qualify and, presumably, keep our student deferments (though of course local draft boards would still be in play).

After taking that test, I wrote my local board, saying that although I felt I had done well on the test (I did–scored something like 89, when something like 83 was the threshold),  test conditions were poor. I stated that the charts and graphs that we were asked to interpret were sometimes poorly drawn and poorly labeled, and in any case not easy to read on the pulp-like paper they were printed on. I also said I thought the test was culturally biased, and gave a specific example.  One of the reading passages described the sport of curling. It described the goal of the game and then listed the team positions: the first, the second, the third, and the fourth, or "skip". One of the test questions was, "Who is the most important member of the team?"  There was no way some kid from a southern region was going to have the knowledge from personal experience or observation to answer that question; a kid from Wisconsin had probably seen the game played, on TV if not in person. Should that southern kid take a cue from the name "skip" (captain or skipper)? Should he apply a baseball analogy and regard the skip as a kind of clean-up hitter?  Maybe in that sport the most important player is the first? In short, bad question.

I got some kind of pro-forma response. My letter probably didn’t reach anybody important, but I had registered my protest. My draft staus remained at II-S for another year. The next year, despite having "passed the test", I was put into the lottery. I "passed" that too.

The University of Wisconsin during those days has been well chronicled in books by David Maraniss and Tom Bates. But you have to have been there to understand how things evolved, how many things were converging (civil rights protests, antiwar protests, women’s liberation movement, environmental movement — and drugs).

[Editor’s note: The Selective Service College Qualification Test (SSCQT), first used in the Korean war years, was widely re-implemented by the Selective Service in 1966, when it was administered to about 767,935 men.]