The first lottery was held during my senior year in college. My number was called in April, although I knew much earlier that it would be called before I graduated. As with all seniors, I was in the process of interviewing for jobs. The year before the lottery, my brother-in-law had been drafted and sent to Vietnam as an infantryman. I vividly remember visiting him in the hospital in Fort Belvoir after he lost his leg above the knee. He was miserable. I vowed on the spot that I would not let that happen to me. My father, a Marine during the 1930s, advised me to go in the military as an officer if I could. A friend from my hometown was going downtown Raleigh to take a test for Naval Officer Candidate School. He encouraged me to go with him. I wasn’t predisposed to go into the military, but figured that if I had to go, I would try to go on my own terms.
I took the test, and then it was a horse race between the Navy and the draft board as to who would claim me first. I had a job offer in Ohio, but decided it did not make sense for me to move out there only to be drafted within two months. I declined the offer and returned to the family farm to help out for as much of the summer as I would have. The Navy letter arrived two weeks before the draft notice.
I received my commission in the U. S. Naval Reserve with a three year active and a three year inactive commitment. I went on to Supply Corps School and was assigned as Disbursing Officer on a destroyer escort homeported in Newport, RI. I was released from active duty five months early, as the Vietnam War was winding down and the Navy was decommissioining ships. The pipeline was full of new Supply Officers, so they asked for volunteers to go home early. I did not hesitate. Although I had been recommended for conversion to the regular Navy and could have made a career of it, I chose to return to civilian life, even though I had not even begun the job search process.
Less than a month after I got out, the oil embargo hit and the job market went straight down. I remained unemployed for four months and finally found a job with the federal government. Luckily for me, I started out at the grade level that my fellow 1970 graduates had advanced to while I was in the Navy. The government recognized the value of my military service; my cohorts did not. I stayed with the same federal agency for 29 years, and was able to retire with full retirement at age 55.
I now enjoy a very comfortable life. I have chosen to dedicate my time and a significant amount of resources to thanking and supporting our troops. I am an area president (volunteer) of the Navy League of the United States. When asked why, my response is, "I do what I do because I live the way I live, and God allows it."
From time to time, I ponder some possibilities:
— If I had drawn a different number, would I have gone to Ohio, met a different woman, and stayed with the same company for 30 years?
— If I had not taken that test for the Navy, would I have in fact gone to Vietnam, and if so, would I have been killed, wounded, or developed mental problems or substance dependence?
— If I had not been offered early release from active duty, would that job with the federal government still been available, or would I have gone into private industry and still be working?
— If I had not enlisted in the Navy, what would I be doing with my retirement years?
My conclusion is that if I had it all to do over again, I would not change a thing. Perhaps it is the fear of the unknown, but I like to think that I have been extremely lucky. I admire the men and women who do make a career of the military — they are much better at what they do than I was. My profound sense is that I can only have the kind of life I have because they raise their right hand and swear to protect the life I have. When someone puts his or her life on the line so I can continue to live a great life, the least I can do is to thank them and support them in any way I can.
Thank you for allowing me to share my story.