I was one of the lucky ones. Watching the lottery drawing with my fraternity brothers at Duke University, many of whose lives changed during those agonizing few hours, became increasingly gleeful for me with the ongoing consumption of beer, and the number of birthdates drawn before mine reaching well up into the 200’s–beyond the projected "cut-off". Some of those with low numbers started saying their good-byes right then and there as they started planning to go to Viet Nam or to Canada.
As I look back on it today, I am truly thankful for those who served then, and those who serve today. One of my most haunting memories is driving overnight from Indiana to my hometown in Virginia (leaving my dream summer job of selling dictionaries door-to-door) to see my brother off for the first of two tours of duty as a Marine in Viet Nam in 1969 (several months prior to that first lottery), thinking I might never see him again…and feeling very guilty that he had volunteered to go while I stayed in college. That feeling of guilt would later be compounded by my high lottery number, which allowed me to hide behind it in order to avoid going. One of my primary motivators for staying in school was to avoid doing what he willingly did.
And to make matters worse, we somehow allowed the men and women serving in the military to become the scapegoats for that unpopular war that they didn’t cause, but that they fought because their country called them to do so. Thank God we’ve returned them to their rightful place as the heroes they are, protectors of our freedom and our way of life. My brother, by the way, was then, and still is, my hero. Freedom isn’t free, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to the men and women who have served our country, and to their families who have shared their commitment and their sacrifice.