Jim, Virginia, 1969. No. 328: Winner Takes All
by | Nov 16, 2009 | Stories |
The charter room of the fraternity house was packed. All the brothers were crowded in front of the 25” RCA. You would have thought there was a State /Carolina basketball game on the TV – but it was something that produced no cheers – it was the lottery for the draft – for Vietnam. I was late getting there and several numbers had already been drawn. We had each placed $5 in the pot. That totaled to $300. The idea was for $200 to go to low number selected and $100 for the high number.
As I said, I was late getting there, the room was packed and no one was speaking except for an occasional moan as a birth date was drawn that matched a brother. The first number I heard was 36, 37 and then 38 and I heard a low word, nearly a whisper come from Fat Dog – “Jesus”. Thinking back, maybe it was a prayer. It was pretty much a given that if your number was 200 or less you were gone and those below 100 would be in rice paddies in a few months.
The numbers continued and finally climbed above 200. The TV announced 211, 212, 213 – “that’s mine” said Bouncer. You might have thought there would be cheers and laughter, but he just looked at Fat Dog, his roommate, his brother and just slowly shook his head side to side. As the numbers continued to climb I became worried … I had not heard December 2 … I thought “was my number one I missed … was it under 36?” The numbers were now into the upper 200’s but the mood had not changed. For the last 3 or 4 years we had stood as one – if one was in trouble, we were all in trouble. If a brother needed help he didn’t even have to ask for it – it was there, we were brothers. But now, we couldn’t help, we couldn’t swap numbers or make it go away with a few beers and some funny stories. Some of us were going to be drafted and probably some of us were going to die.
I noticed that one of the brothers was missing … “Where’s Roach?” “Packing” was the reply “he got No. 3, he’s heading to Canada.”
December 2, No. 328—that was me but I didn’t speak, I felt guilty. I had already lost several high school buddies from Newport News and now I had a “get out of jail free” card. The remaining numbers were called and Snowman was the high number with something like 350 or 351.
Roach had returned to the room by then. The money was sitting in two piles – $200 in one and the remaining $100 in the other. Snowman walked over to the money, picked up both piles, walked across the room and handed it all to Roach. No one was surprised. I think anyone who had drawn the high number would have done the same — we were brothers.
Roach left Raleigh the next morning. He didn’t even go home – he got on the Trailways and headed north.
The next time I saw him was years later, after Jimmy Carter’s pardon. He was spreadeagled over the trunk of a police car at Nags Head. I didn’t even stop – I don’t know which I feel more guilty about – not stopping or drawing No. 328.