The night of the draft lottery in December ’69 is etched in my memory. My family and I knew that the drawing could immediately determine the course of my life, including the possibility of losing it on a battle field in Viet Nam, where tens of thousands of young Americans, some from our community, had already died.
That evening was three weeks before I would complete my BA at the University of Kentucky and my student deferment would end. The probability of being drafted within weeks was real, if my birthdate was drawn early, because I had already been deemed fit to serve after reporting for a physical exam the previous summer and I had no prospect of occupationally-deferred employment at that time.
I had planned to teach after college and spent my final semester student teaching six hours a day, which meant no time to search for a full-time position. Teaching jobs received occupational deferments but were scarce, because men were flocking to the profession to avoid the draft.
My mom, dad and grandmother, with whom I was staying while student teaching at a high school near the state capital, and I watched the televised drawing filled with a combination of dread and hope for my future. When my birthdate was drawn – No. 125 – the hope was gone, because we had read reports that numbers that low could be drafted by March.
I finished the semester, received my degree and spent the holidays trying to line up job interviews with the largest school systems in Kentucky, where prospects for mid-year employment were greatest. I also accepted an invitation from the teacher under whose supervision I had done my student teaching to visit with her and her family on Christmas night. That visit and that relationship turned out to be fortuitous.
The first week of January I had a disappointing job interview with the Louisville/Jefferson County school system: there were no openings for a business education major. Real worry set in and I began to experience stomach problems from it. I remember going drinking with a buddy one night and having to order milk to stop the alcohol from burning my stomach.
Two days after that interview, though, I received a call from my teacher friend in the state capital asking if I had found employment. When I told her that my prospects looked grim, she put her husband, who was director of finance for the state’s bureau of rehabilitation services on the phone. He suggested I apply for a position at a rehabilitation facility for newly blinded adults his agency was opening in Louisville, which came with a state-mandated, special occupational deferment.
I interviewed for the job the following week, accepted an offer of employment the week after that and went to work there as a communications instructor in mid-February. As I recall, the selective service stopped issuing new occupational deferments for teachers in March, because that job market was over-supplied.
Call it fate, destiny, whatever, I didn’t want to go to Viet Nam and it turned out that I didn’t have to. But I would have served my time if things hadn’t worked out for me the way they did – even though by 1969 I didn’t believe that particular war was necessary or just. I’ve since come to believe that most wars are caused by people with insatiable greed and lust for power over others.