Earlier in the year, I had turned down a newspaper job that promised a safe spot in the National Guard as an inducement. What in the name of Sergeant York was I thinking? So rather than be drafted, I decided to enlist and, eventually, go to Officer Candidate School. I guess I hoped I would land a non-combatant position on Stars & Stripes, though, it’s more likely I would have become an easy target on a rice paddy patrol. After passing both a physical and an OCS exam in Raleigh, all I had to do was sign the dotted line because my Draft Board assured me I was in the next call up. Then, in the greatest act in the history of the American Presidency, Richard Nixon suspended the draft to institute the lottery. To this day, I almost forgive him Watergate for it.
On lottery night, I sat in an empty studio at WAYS and listened to the live feed of the lottery process. Even in that pre-internet, pre-CNN era, I would know my fate immediately. But, wait a minute, something’s wrong. I listened and listened and listened, waiting for my birthday, June 29, to be drawn. I didn’t hear it. I was sure I had missed it. One hundred dates. Two hundred dates. Three hundred dates. Still, no "June 29." Then, on selection 353, 13 from the end, I heard it. Short of protecting our native soil against a Russian invasion, I was safe. I can’t recall if I laughed or cried. But I do remember this: I wrote the number on a small piece of adhesive paper, went to my apartment, and stuck it on the head of a made-in-China African carving that sat on my (rented) coffee table so it would remain in easy view. My triumph against the system. At that very moment I was no longer interested in making the world safe for democracy. Like Muhammad Ali, I had "nothing against no Vietcong." The United States Army refused to surrender, however. In the months that followed, I received letters advising me that this storied organization couldn’t wait for me to come on in. Just one more form to sign. No thank-you, sir, sir! Within a few months, I won a national journalism award and got a job at Sports Illustrated. I arrived in New York 40 years ago this week. A wonderful wife, four kids, two currently pregnant daughters-in-law and three dogs later, I still shake my head in wonderment and thank God in relief.