I was involved in the very first lottery in 1969. I was a sophomore at North Carolina State University, single, and prime for the draft. I was not an avid supporter of the Vietnam war, but was not a draft dodger either. Had I been drafted I would have gone, but didn’t want to volunteer. I was looking forward to the lottery in a strange sort of way, I suppose just wanting to have a better knowledge of how I stood in terms of likelihood of being drafted.
The day of the draft (which was to be held that evening, and was to be televised), a group of us decided to gather in a friend’s dorm room to see our fate unfold. Back in those days only a few guys had TVs, so we picked the one "volunteer" to host the viewing. I remember that I was about 10 minutes late getting to his room, and when I walked in, the lottery had started and they were drawing number 11. There was no repeat of the numbers crawling across the screen, no periodic review, just the live continual drawing of numbers. I sat there and watched intently, but as time wore on, my number never showed up. Ordinarily that would have excited me (after all, I didn’t really "want" to go), but in the back of my mind I was becoming more and more worried, just knowing that I probably was one of the first 10 (that I did not see). Up to 250, 300, then 350 and still my birthday didn’t show. Finally 365 was drawn and it was not me. I was really in dismay then, just knowing that I was in the first 10. But then, I saw the host say they were drawing the "last number" and remembered that this first lottery covered more than one birth year, so there was a 366th number drawn for leap year. When they drew the number it was my birthday! Finally, I had experienced something where coming in last was a wonderful thing. (Understand that it isn’t that I don’t love my country and am not patriotic, but I just didn’t want to do my duty as a ground troop in Vietnam.)
I was so excited that I ran to the phone in the hall (no room phones or cell phones in those days), and called my parents collect (a rare event reserved for only the most important of causes). They had seen the show as well, but knew from the start that I was not in the early numbers. I am happy for them that they knew – now that I am a parent and grandparent, I know it would bother me more for my child or grandchild than it did for myself.
At any rate, I never did get drafted, and because I got married about a year later, I did not volunteer either. I often think of how my life would have been very different (and perhaps a lot shorter) had my number come up sooner. But as I stated early on, had it been that way, I would have gone and done my best. Most of the guys I knew who drew early numbers went ahead and enlisted so they could pick the branch of service and probably a more appealing line of duty than the draft would have given them. I was lucky, and I suppose if I could have a wish regarding this, it would be that we would never need a draft ever again. Sadly, reality tells me that will not likely be the case.