I was in our house (which I rented along with six other students, all class of ’71) at 1218 Broad Street the night that the Draft Lottery results were announced. At about 11 that night, I heard a couple of my fellow tenants coming through the door and talking excitedly about their draft numbers. One of them yelled out, "Hey Rusty, what’s your number?" I replied that I didn’t know yet, and they told me to get on the phone to the campus radio station and ask. So I did. A student who worked at the station answered on the second ring, and he calmly asked me my birthday. "April 28," I replied. My voice was pretty shaky. "Just a second", he replied. Then after a less than one second pause, he said, "262. You lucked out." I shouted a grateful "Thank you!" as if he had arranged to give me the good news.
Of course some survival guilt set in after about an hour. A couple of days later I ran into Peter W., who was a year behind me and had gone to the same high school as I had in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Of course, the subject of the lottery numbers came up, and he told me he had "hit the bull’s eye–number 1." I felt guilty about disclosing my good fortune of having drawn 262. He told me he would be considering divinity school, especially as he was both anti-war (as almost all of us at Duke were) and a conscientious objector.
So less than two years later I had enrolled in Duke’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, and I found myself teaching ninth grade English in Greenville, South Carolina to fulfill the full year internship requirement of the program. I stayed in secondary school (grades 6-12) teaching for another 35 years in Montgomery County, Maryland. Since retiring from full-time teaching in 2007, I have worked part-time as a debate/forensics coach at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, as well as a supervisor of student teachers for Johns Hopkins University.
I mention this long career in education because I am fully aware that a low draft number might have precluded it, and might even have gotten me killed. Teaching was no longer good for a draft deferment after 1970, so I definitely would have had to put in some kind of military service if my draft number had been low. So simplistic and corny as it sounds, my draft number 262 changed my life.
Believe me, I talked with all my friends and my brother, who was a senior at Lehigh University that year. My brother’s number was something like 212, and somehow all of my close friends lucked out with numbers of 180 or higher. But The Duke Chronicle vividly–and with some degree of truth–editorialized in the next day’s issue that the draft lottery was a "lottery of death." I have never forgotten or minimized that I was one of the fortunate ones. By pure random luck, I was free to embark on a career in teaching, which has shaped my life. I met my wife in 1972 at the first school (Kennedy in Silver Spring) where I started my Montgomery County career, and our 23 year old daughter is now also a teacher (in Arkansas, with Teach for America).