My memory is that it was late Thanksgiving Weekend in 1969, and I was up from North Carolina visiting with a friend at Harvard. A bunch of us were sitting in the common room of his suite, and since we were all born between 1944 and 1950, we were intently listening to the drawing of the new Draft Lottery numbers. Mine was 185.
I do remember one classmate who drew something like number 345. He stopped by to say goodbye to all his friends and classmates, got onto his motorcycle, and was never heard from again.
As 1970 and a new decade dawned the war in Vietnam continued unabated. Since I was at the time a student in North Carolina I had a deferment until at least June of 1971, so I knew that I could avoid the draft until at least then. As 1970 proceeded the government announced that they would draw up to lottery number 195 before the end of the year, which made 185 a vulnerable number for that year, but that could vary from draft board to draft board. There was a feature in the new draft laws that allowed draft eligible men who had been actively in the draft pool for a year but were not called for service to be re-classified “I-H” which meant that they couldn’t be drafted except in the case of a national emergency.
I lived at the time in upper Manhattan, and my draft board included Harlem, which, for what we may now consider to be highly unfair reasons, had a large pool of draft-eligible young men who didn’t have the benefit of student deferments. When I arrived home for Christmas break I called my local draft board and inquired as to how high they planned to draw before the end of 1970, and I was informed that they did not think they would go beyond 184. At the time there was no guarantee that 1971 would be any better than 1970, and since it seemed that my draft board wouldn’t draw to my number before the end of the year, I considered dropping my student deferment, taking a I-A classification until the end of the year when, if my number didn’t get called, I would be re-classified I-H and no longer be eligible for the draft.
About eight days before the end of the year I went down to my draft board and, in what might have mistakenly been taken for a grand patriotic gesture, gave up my student deferment and was re-classified I-A. For some eight days I was in the active draft pool, and if I had miscalculated I would be pulled out of school and sent to Vietnam. Every morning for the rest of the year I called my draft board and asked what number had been called to that point. On December 31st, 1970 my local board had called through 183. My number had NOT come up, and I was re-classified I-H.
As it turned out, the whole exercise was pointless. By 1971 the war was beginning to wind down, and I think in 1971 they only drew through 130 or 135, so I would have been safe under any circumstances.
Still, for eight days in 1970 I was classified I-A. To this day, I consider the draft lottery the only lottery I ever won by losing.