I was a sophomore at Duke in December, 1969, living in York House–one of the "new" dorms on west campus. The night of the draft lottery a group of us attended a basketball game at the old Greensboro Coliseum. The freshmen were tasked to take turns listening to the lottery on a transistor radio and immediately report as each number was drawn. I drew number 118.
I was then a "contract" NROTC student, meaning that I was not on scholarship. The morning after the lottery happened to be our weekly NROTC drill day. When I walked into the NROTC unit that morning there were stacks of uniforms piled high on the conference room table! It seems that more than a dozen "regular" NROTC students who drew high numbers in the lottery simply turned in their uniforms and walked away from full scholarships, free textbooks and the magnificent–for the time–monthly stipend of $100.
A week or two after that, I was approached by the Commanding Officer of the NROTC unit. Captain Cocowich, a distinguished Naval pilot, asked if I would be interested in taking up one of the scholarships vacated by my peers. I thought about it for maybe 10 seconds, and gladly accepted the Captain’s offer.
I beat feet to the closest pay phone (remember those big black phones hanging on the wall that you actually stuck coins into?) to call my Dad in Oklahoma to ask if I had done the right thing by accepting the Navy’s offer of a full scholarship to Duke in exchange for four years of service as an officer. My Dad assured me that I had done the right thing. My younger brother has yet to thank me for his undergraduate degree that the Navy inadvertently funded.
After graduation, I was commissioned in the Navy Supply Corps. I served aboard a large frigate in the Atlantic fleet, homeported first in Newport, RI and then in Jacksonville, Florida. I made one deployment to the Mediterranean, which hooked me on international travel and working abroad. I worked an assignment to a NATO staff in Portugal where I lived shortly after the "flower revolution". After an ill-advised decision to leave the Navy after 8 years, I went into international business and spent the bulk of my career working in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. I stayed in the Naval Reserve and took a voluntary recall to active duty in Germany–of all places–in 1994. I served there for 4 years and then stayed on for another 4 years working as a contractor supplying food to US forces throughout Europe.
So, the outcome of the lottery turned out to be very beneficial for me. I ended up in a career that may not have made me as much money as another line of work, but I have certainly been more places, seen more things and enjoyed more people around the globe than many of my peers. And that, as the MasterCard slogan says, is priceless.
In fact, I think we should bring back the draft. Not because the military wants it (they don’t). It is my personal belief that there is no better way to fire up the American melting pot than by throwing young people (of both genders these days) into a great leveling mixing bowl for a year or two.