The draft lottery was on the day before my 21st birthday in 1969. One of my best friends had been forced to drop out of Carolina for a couple of semesters because of mononucleosis and was living at home in Burlington and taking some classes at Elon before returning to UNC.
On the night of the draft, I drove over to Burlington from Chapel Hill, picked up my buddy and then we grabbed a bunch of beer and headed off to a local drive-in movie to watch a sea-going epic called "Thar She Blows!" We did this out of a superstitious belief that if we listened to or watched the lottery, one of us would get Number 366 and be safely free of the draft and the other would get Number 1 and prepare to head to either Vietnam or Canada. If you’ll remember, it was a bitterly cold night on December 1st and despite many beers, we finally had to turn on the car and get the heat on. Of course the radio came on at the same time and the first birthday we heard called was my buddy’s: his number was 310. Naturally, he was whooping with excitement and relief; then he suddenly looked over at me and noticed that I had turned a sickly gray-green color. Since he had gotten such a high number, that meant I was doomed to a low one and a free ticket to the rice paddies.
Two more numbers were drawn and then mine, December 2, came up. The draft number: 328.
Don and I made it from Burlington to Chapel Hill in about 20 minutes, went straight to the Zete house where a combination celebration/wake was in full swing. In the basement bar where caricatures had been painted of the various brothers, someone had gotten the paint and drawn several tombstones with the names and numbers of the unfortunate Zekes who had gotten frighteningly low numbers.
It was an incredible night and a life-changing, watershed event for everyone. For those of us with high numbers, there was immediately a staggering weight lifted off our shoulders. Whether or not we would go to Vietnam became a personal choice rather than a government-forced decision. For those with low numbers, it meant being drafted, enlisting and hoping for OCS, joining the Reserves or National Guard or even taking up residence with our northern neighbors.
In retrospect, that evening was one of the single most important nights of my life. Not only was I utterly opposed to the senseless war, I have no doubt that had I been drafted and sent to Vietnam, I would have been dead in two weeks.