When the Vietnam draft calls blew up the numbers almost overnight, the system just wasn’t prepared for it. Boards had radically different approaches depending on a few volunteer board members. Some were very "easy" with deferments, others very tough, though all were ostensibly operating under the same national guidelines. The foregoing led to a system which was easily manipulated if one really wanted to do so.
My board (Louisville, KY) was notoriously tough and unrelenting. Tiring of the constant stress of the uncertainty, I decided to join a Navy Officer (OCS) training program which opened up during my junior year at the local (Lexington, KY) Navy Reserve unit. While I had to attend drills, acceptance into this program allowed me to defer active duty for the extra semester I needed due to having switched majors once I figured out what I was doing. Without the deferment, my draft board would have grabbed me immediately after my 8th semester, though other boards were considerably more lenient.
During my 9th semester (fall 1969), Nixon brought in the lottery and I drew a totally safe number (345 or something like that). Of course I was already in the Navy and dropping out of OCS would have meant going two years enlisted instead of 3 as an officer–no good deal in my book.
After graduation, I was sent in 1970 to the Navy OCS base in Newport, RI. A week before I was due to be commissioned the Navy changed the rule and dropping out meant you were released from the Navy but subject to the draft. Of course, I was home free with my lottery number.
In the end, I just couldn’t go in and resign because I didn’t feel right about it. I had basically completed OCS and didn’t want to have to tell my children someday why their father hadn’t served in a time when so many had died. The point wasn’t how I felt about the war one way or the other. The point was a sense of my duty as a citizen.
So, I stayed in. It was one of the best decisions of my life. I served on an amphibious ship homeported in Norfolk, VA and made friendships which last to this day. In fact, the six of us then-junior officers who were best friends had a 40 year reunion of our 1972 deployment to the Med this past spring in Annapolis.
At dinner with our wives in Annapolis, we toasted two close friends no longer with us–our executive officer who was later killed in an accident on duty and the pilot of the American Airlines flight which crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11/01–"Chick" Burlingame.
I thank the Lord every time I pray for the decision I made back then–a decision I made for no other reason than I thought it was the right thing to do. My Navy service was one of the highlights of my life. Without the draft, I wouldn’t have done it. Had the lottery been sooner, before I joined the Navy program, I wouldn’t have done it either.