I learned my lottery number on my way back from Carmichael Auditorium in Chapel Hill, after a UNC basketball game. It was 225. I didn’t know quite what to make of it: it was high enough to make me think there was a chance I would not be drafted, but not high enough for me to be sure. There was confusion and misinformation for the next several weeks about how the numbers would be used. Would there be a single number nationwide above which you were safe from the draft, or would it be administered on a draft board by draft board basis? The latter was of most concern to those of us from small towns; with a small pool of draft candidates, it was more likely that a higher number could be reached.
In any event, I was never drafted and went on to complete college and then enter law school It wasn’t until 1971, in my first year of law school when the war was winding down, that I felt I was completely out of the woods. And there was a little bit of wistfulness — but not quite disappointment — in that realization. I had pretty much assumed that I would do military service at some point, and while I didn’t look forward to it, I thought of it as part of a full life experience for an American boy. Some of my friends who served came out of it for the better. Only one person I knew didn’t come back alive from Viet Nam. A couple of others came back with scars that didn’t surface until much later, but I didn’t know about them at the time.
But that wistfulness was not enough to make me enlist on my own motion, and so my 225 lottery number led me into middle age without any military service, and maybe with a little twinge of guilt for not serving.