35. My birthday in 1948 was on May 7. That’s month 5, day 7. 5×7=35, my draft number. It was all too neat. I was a senior at Cornell sitting on the sofa next to my pregnant young wife in the library room of our tiny student apartment in Ithaca, New York that December night in 1969. The "number 35, May 7" hit like a blow to the gut. My wife was silent, stoic, too deeply sad and fearful to cry or speak. Cornell had become a hotbed of Ivy League anti-war activity, mass demonstrations, sit-ins, even bomb threats. Getting drafted meant facing not only the war, but also the judgment of anti-war peers. Would I just accept my lot and do the service? Would we move to Canada? So the rest of the academic year hung over us with all the heavy gloom of a cold New York winter.
I got my draft notice 9 months later while my wife and I were deep in Mexico on a vacation trip. My terrified mother phoned from Tucson to tell me that my New York draft board had sent me orders to appear for a medical exam in Syracuse in 30 days. Being a family man at that point, and still having the vision of my father’s decorated service and suffering as a POW in Japan during WW II, I felt I couldn’t go to Canada. The dishonor to the family would be too much. I decided to face the music and appear in Syracuse.
The young Army doctor who gave me the post-exam exit interview looked at my chart and said, "it looks like you have pretty bad asthma." "No, sir, not in years" I replied. He looked at me squarely and said, "Do you want to go to Vietnam?" "No, sir," said I. "Well, then. I think this asthma case of yours makes you unsuitable for service."
And that was it, 4-F. I was too stunned and insensitive at the time to recognize the favor that young Army captain was giving me. Maybe it was his way of protesting the insanity of the war. He was probably fresh out of med school, not much older than I. Maybe he just didn’t want to see another young father separated from his family. Maybe it was just dumb luck that on that August day, that doctor held a salvation lottery of his own.