I married right out of high school, but by 1969 this merited no special draft status or deferment. I recall that this first draft lottery (of my generation) was actually a reinstatement of the lottery system used in WW II.
The 1969 lottery was televised live. My wife and I, along with some friends, gathered around our little portable TV with rabbit ears to watch. All the guys watching with us in our tiny apartment had II-S draft status. All of us were draft exempt as long as we maintained full time student status with at least a 2.0 GPA. Even so, we all watched and waited with avid interest to see when the blue capsule with our birthday was drawn.
Our intense interest grew from our understanding of the rules under the draft lottery. The new system would permit anyone to give up their deferment if they so chose. If an eligible male spent one year "in the pool" (with a Selective Service draft designation of I-A) without being drafted, his name was then removed from the pool of eligible draftees.
So, our anticipation was understandable. A II-S was only good for 4 years … kind of like NCAA eligibility. In 1969 no one knew how long the war would last and all of us in the room had burned through at least 2 years of our possible 4. However, surviving just 1 year "in the pool" as a I-A without being called for induction meant you were forever draft exempt. A guy’s whole future could be determined by a randomly chosen birthdate.
When the drawing began, guys would hold their breath with each new birthday posted. In our Selective Service District, "the word" was that anyone with a lottery birthday higher than 120 or so would probably not be called. By the time they got to 120, some of the guys knew they’d be holding on to their II-S deferments. In my case, I thought I must have missed my number, because the lottery went well into the 300’s and I still hadn’t seen my birthday pulled. Finally, my birthday was picked at No. 351.
I confirmed my lottery status the next day in the newspaper. Yet I still felt queasy as I went to the draft board in person to give up my II-S. These were far different times than our country faced in WWII or in recent years. There was no groundswell of patriotism to rush over to ‘Nam and "protect our freedom." At least not among anyone I ever met in 1969. We all questioned the reason for fighting and dying in Southeast Asia.
But I did my year as a I-A and never regretted it. I still have that card in a drawer somewhere. I had friends who joined the National Guard in an effort to avoid the war, only to have their Guard Unit activated and shipped out. I had other friends who couldn’t maintain their GPA and were drafted. I, like many others, also had friends who never came home.
It’s 2012 and I still have to question it all. Vietnam is now a trading partner with the US. The US has established diplomatic ties there. The "dominoes" in SE Asia somehow did not topple despite our departure. Did 60,000 American boys dying in the rice paddies do anything at all to strengthen our country or preserve our freedom? Did those lost lives make us safer and more secure? I wish someone could convince me so.