I graduated from Robert E. Lee high school in Jacksonville in ’67. Guys I knew where already in Vietnam by their own enlistments, including my brother. I was enrolled in junior college which gave me a deferral for the remainder of ’67 and the first half of ’68. I didn’t enjoy attending classes and became disheartened upon learning Selective Service was tracking my academic progress. By summer of ’68 I had dropped out of school and knew what was about to happen.
I didn’t want to go. I never considered Canada or shooting my feet, but I didn’t want people shooting at me and all the guys I knew over there had gone into the infantry. I was called for a physical at Jax NAS and passed with flying colors, I-A, ready to go. High anxiety for the next 3-4 months hoping I had been overlooked somehow or someone maybe thought it was more important for me to stay home and bag groceries.
Then, I heard about THE LOTTERY. I knew I at least had a chance even though I had never won anything in my entire life. My dad and I planned it out like watching the Super Bowl with snacks and stuff but I know I wasn’t hungry. It was probably the most-watched tv show ever. My best friend had lost his college deferment too and was watching at home with his parents just like millions of others, I would imagine.
The first birthday drawn was my buddy’s and I know he freaked out. It was a shock to my system and I assumed mine would be soon after. Each birthday selected added a little more comfort. I remember talking to my dad about what a safe zone would be, maybe number 150 or so. I wonder what he thought about my squirming around that night. He had himself enlisted in the army during WW-2 as had nearly all my uncles.
Anyway, my birthday was finally connected to lottery number 253. I was relieved but I never really relaxed about it until the war was declared over. Several in my neighborhood didn’t make it back and a couple came back to work at the grocery store with an affection for dope. I don’t regret staying home for the war. I never thought of those who went as anything other than unfortunate souls that weren’t as lucky as me.
I got my butt back in school soon after the lottery and finished school and never looked back. I saw people demonstrating against the war and heard of the disrespect being heaped upon returning soldiers and was glad I didn’t live in those places. I have friends who were in Nam who still have the flashbacks you hear of and some are still bitter. Maybe I would have been like them.