The draft and then the lottery dominated not only my life, but everyone around me during my college years until I "placed out" of a likely trip to Vietnam. Once I realized that going to Vietnam was a real possibility, I did not want to rely only on chance as a way out. I had moderate environmental allergies and occasional asthma attacks throughout my life, but everything was MUCH worse when I came to Duke from my home in upstate New York. I was seen at the clinic at least once or twice a week for exacerbations of one sort or another.
On the night of December 1, 1969 I was in Greensboro attending the Duke-UNC basketball game. One of the folks in the crowd had a radio and he was calling off the numbers and associated birthdates to the delight, chagrin, groans or silence of those around him. When my birthday (October 29) came up at 229, I had very mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was totally ecstatic because essentially all the numbers on either side of my birthday were double figures. On the other hand, at that point everyone was saying that the "requests" to join the military could easily go that high. It wasn’t until the next day or so when it became clearer that it was unlikely I would be called upon to join the military.
The first thing I did on upon my return to the dorm was to call and wake up my mother to thank her for picking such a good day to have me enter the world. Since it was no longer December 1 at this point, she had no idea what I was talking about. It wasn’t until I called again later in the day and they had a chance to see all the numbers and birthdates in the paper that my parents realized what I was talking about.
And then, as Bill Cosby related in one of his earliest routines, "A MIRACLE HAPPENED! An angel came down and touched me on the shoulder and said, ‘Go out and play!’" Oops, I mean, all of a sudden, my allergies and asthma improved dramatically.
I still don’t know if I would have left the country rather than fight, but I did have references available. But having to rethink my position on the war, our government and its activities as well as go through the exercise of what was I going to do was an important event in determining the adult I am. To be forced to not just accept what I was told and follow along blindly as well as
realize understand that silence equals assent has become one of my core values. It made the Holocaust and all the similar tragedies more understandable, real and scary. It helped me realize that dissent is patriotic, necessary and a requirement if one is to be a citizen of this country and the world.
I still mourn the death of Bobby Kennedy as I believe he would have changed the course of history if elected and try to always remember not just ask "Why", but to also ask "Why not?"