I finished high school in 1969 and immediately started college. That fall was the first draft lottery. I remember before finding out my number all of the activity on campus. Guys we’re hanging bannners out their dorm windows saying things like “Goodby cruel world” or just giving their lottery number. When I finally saw the list, I saw that my birthday, December 30, 1950, was lottery number 3. Later I read that birthdays late in the year had a greater chance at getting a lower number because the selection “balls” were not mixed up very well.
Luckily I had my student deferment. At Central Missouri State University all Freshman boys were required to take a semester of ROTC. Since I was a music major I joined the ROTC band. I decided to stay in the ROTC program. If I was going to be drafted, I might as well go in as a second lieutenant. But after I finished the year in ROTC I decided it wasn’t for me.
I actually went and talked to a guy at a booth for conscientious objectors. I explained to him that I would probably be in a band and would not see any bullets. He told me it didn’t matter. It was an immoral war and I would still be condoning it. At one point in my college career I forgot to renew my student deferral. I received a letter telling me to report for duty. I called my draft board to explain I was still a student. When I told the lady my name she blurted out, “Aren’t you number one?” I corrected the lady by saying I was number 3, but apparently I was on the top of their list. Luckily they renewed my deferral.
As I neared graduation I sent out audition tapes to the 4 national service bands in Washington D.C. The Air Force band said no thanks. The Marine Corps Band arranged for me to audition in Independence, Missouri following one of their concerts. After the concert two of the musicians stayed afterwards to hear me play, but they were really more interested in the Washington Redskins game than doing an audition. When the audition was over, I gave them a ride back to their hotel. On that trip they were so obnoxious that I gave them fake contact information. I decided if the other members in the band were like them, I didn’t want to be in it. I was young.
The other two national bands agreed to hear me live in Washington D.C. So in the early summer of 1972 I went to Washington D.C. and auditioned for the Navy Band and the Army Field Band. The Navy band later sent me a nice formal letter saying they did not need my services. At the Army audition I played a piece I had written and then had to sight read the first clarinet part from Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture”. I don’t know if he was impressed or just desperate, but I made the band. I was told to go see a recruiter after I graduated and to have them call this number to verify my status.
Later that summer I married my high school sweetheart, and in the fall began student teaching to finish my degree. I finished student teaching and my degree in mid November. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving I went to see the recruiter. When I told him I was going to play in the Army Band in Washington D.C. he seemed doubtful, until he called the number. Then he became excited to make his 50 dollars for recruiting someone. He arranged for me to come back Monday to take the Army’s battery of enlistment tests.
The next day was Thanksgiving. The family gathering was at my wife’s parents house. It was a nice day, so my brother-in-law and I decided to pass a football around in the front yard. At one point I decided to make a jump pass. Now I know why NFL quarterbacks don’t do that very often. As I came down I heard a pop in my ankle and felt a lot of pain.
I’ll never forget the look on that recruiter’s face when I showed up Monday on crutches. The recruiter took me and a young African-American man down to the Army test facility. I passed every test except the one where I had to stand on one leg and wiggle the other one (an important thing soldiers need to be able to do). I was told to report back in 6 weeks after my ankle was healed. The young black man was not accepted. He seemed normal enough to me. I wondered why they were drafting boys who didn’t want to be there, and rejecting volunteers.
I am past making this long story short, but suffice it to say that in January of 1973 Nixon did away with the draft. I don’t think the recruiter was happy when he called late January to see if I was ready to go. I explained that I had just gotten married and my wife had another year of nursing school since I had finished early by going during the summers. So I had decided to go into teaching instead of the Army. I felt sorry for him losing his 50 dollars. I sometimes refer to that Thanksgiving as my lucky break as I ended up teaching for 40 years and am still married to my high school sweetheart.