I had no fear or worries on the night of the lottery. Not because of the high number my birthday drew, but because I was already in Vietnam, assigned to an artillery battery on a small hill in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. For us there, across the international dateline, it was already into the next day, and I was almost nine months into my one-year tour with the Army.
Around March of 1968, as my graduation that June was approaching, I had a decision to make. My college deferment was about to end, and the Tet offensive in Vietnam had just turned everything upside down there. I watched the news reports every night and saw guys my age and younger getting shot and killed. I had friends from high school in Greensboro, GA already serving, and I knew many had no deferment like me. Essentially, someone was going in my place, and that didn’t seem fair. With my draft status about to change to 1A, and the likelyhood of getting a decent job very low under such circumstances, I decided to go ahead and volunteer that spring. I didn’t want to wait on the draft. I wanted to get on with my life, and I couldn’t do that with the draft staring me in the face. Actually I wanted to serve my country despite the prevailing feelings about the war, and I didn’t want anyone else to go in my place.
I graduated from UGA in June, 1968, was inducted in July in the old Sears Building in Atlanta aross from Ponce de Leon Park, and was flown to Ft. Leonard Wood, MO for basic training. From there I went to Ft. Sill, OK in September for AIT, then to Ft. Campbell, KY in November to wait for further assignment. The rumor was we would either go to NATO in Europe or to Vietnam. Out of about 40 in my platoon, three were sent to Europe, and the rest of us were sent to Vietnam.
My real lottery occurred after I arrived in Vietnam in early March of 1969. We flew in to Bien Hoa Air Base near Saigon just before dawn and were quickly driven to the big Army base at Long Bien where we waited in a holding company for assignment somewhere in the country. About four times a day we were called into formation where names were called out. This is precisely where fates were decided. If your name was called you shipped out immediately to somewhere in the country, and some places were less desirable than others. Your chances of survival were literally dependent upon where you were sent.
Fast forward to December, 1969, and the lottery. Like I said, it didn’t matter. I was already there. And it didn’t matter that my number was so high and I could have avoided service if I had waited. I was glad I served then, and I have no regrets today, except for those who died and suffered injury, and for their families.
There is much more to tell…at some other time.