I’m glad to see someone remembers the lottery. It was a big deal at the time, especially the first one in 1969.

I was a 1st-year graduate student at Duke. The lottery was in December. Evenings I would be studying in a room I shared with 4-6 other physics students in the lower level of the Duke physics building. (Usually I was the only one there, and only 2 others were in it with any regularity.) I had a portable radio with which I would listen to WPTF in Raleigh, which played classical music from 8-10 in the evenings.

The night of the lottery, I did not have the music on. In the days leading up to the lottery, the news had reported the number of men expected to be drafted in 1970, and the number of men in the pool. A quick calculation suggested to me that no one with a number above 104 would likely be drafted. When the dates drawn reached number 104, then 120, and on up, I remember feeling almost exultant. Finally, my birthday came out around number 175.

The next day or two, news stories were saying the highest number likely to be subject to draft was around 169 or so, depending on the state. That puzzled me a bit. I’m not sure when I realized my mistake in calculation, maybe not until I actually got drafted during the summer of 1970 and started talking with others in the Army. Many of those with low draft numbers enlisted or got into the National Guard or reserves.

My notice came on or around 5 June 1970. I was resigned to my fate. My late mother, usually the most docile of people, energetically tried to get me out of being drafted. As a result of her efforts, the recently deceased (28 Jun 2010) Senator Byrd of WV called the commander of WV National Guard who somehow got my induction postponed from June to August.

The Duke Chronicle, a few days after the lottery, had a long story, written by a Duke student, questioning its agnosticity (a real word) with respect to the calendar. The article included a graph suggesting dates in the last 3 months of the year were more likely to have low lottery numbers than were dates earlier in the year. At the time, I did not have enough statistical knowledge to know how to analyze the data myself, but did recognize that the article was not the product of a mathematician. Still, I saved that issue of the Chronicle for many months.

The article claimed balls or capsules of dates were dumped into a bin before the lottery, in chronological order. Supposedly, the bin was given a cursory shaking or tumbling, then the drawing began. From the article’s graph, if November (my month), along with October and December, looked bad for someone wanting a high number, I do remember that March was about the same.

My first, fortunately not my last, year in graduate school was interesting, in the sense of the Chinese curse. Laboring with courses like Statistical Mechanics, Electromagnetic Field Theory, and the like, anxious about the draft, hearing the news every day about battles and deaths in Viet Nam, experiencing the shock of the Kent State (not to mention the almost-forgotten Jackson State) murders, seeing the Duke traffic circle barricaded and shut down by demonstrators…It was interesting.

A gentleman named Harry DeMik in the Duke registrar’s office and Dr. Eugene Greuling (who died in 1975) of the physics department arranged for me to get a master’s degree, as it appeared I had barely fulfilled the requirements for it, before I went into the Army. I’m not sure if they saved me or not, from going to Viet Nam. At one time I was pretty sure they had, based on my observation of who got the best assignment coming out of the military police school. It looked like the Army took the two of my company who had master’s degrees for assignment to West Point, then started back at the beginning of the alphabet to take those with college degrees.

Three of the 12 first-year physics graduate students at Duke from 1969 went into the service. Two of us were drafted, the third joined the Air Force. My self and the other drafted fellow returned to Duke and got our degrees. None of the rest of our class knew what happened to the fellow who joined the Air Force.

No philosophy. OK, but let me say after a few months in the Army I started realizing a little of what the Viet Nam war was about. And, after being out of the Army for a couple or decades or so, I started wishing I had been enough of a man at the age of 21 to stand up and refuse to be drafted.