graduating senior – Class of 1970 – I followed the Selective Service Lottery
with a great deal of interest. That famous December night in 1969 found a large
group of us huddled around the television in my fraternity house. We hung on
every number as it was drawn until our own birthday was announced and then
wandered off to either celebrate or contemplate.
whole idea behind the Lottery was to end the suspense. After the drawing, we’d
know what our future would hold, at least in theory. First 100 would go, last
100 wouldn’t go. But what about the “middle 100?” It was anybody’s guess.
my birthday came up at 136 I was no better off than I was before the drawing.
I meet with the University of Missouri draft counselor. I didn’t even know we
had one! And I’m not a big fan of well-intentioned “experts” who likely don’t know
much about me and my circumstances. But for some reason I made an appointment –
what did I have to lose?
at his office door in Jesse Hall, I quickly came to realize this wasn’t what I
thought a draft counselor would be. He was Lieutenant Colonel Johnson, U.S.
great! He’s going to tell me how the Army is “going to make a man of me!” And
how I’d learn valuable skills (like how to bury a sniper.) I had no doubt he
had a stack of enlistment papers in his desk drawer.
have been a college senior, but I still had a lot to learn. Col. Johnson spared
me the “Rah, Rah! speech” and skipped all the patriotic talk. He said the
Vietnam war was coming to an end and if I could prolong my entering service I just
might get lucky. Being brutally honest (you’d expect less from an artillery
colonel?), he told me I wouldn’t be able to avoid the draft, but at least I
could delay it. And every day longer, the better my chances were that things
laid out a simple plan, with each Selective Service action triggering a
reaction on my part. Get in graduate school right away, he said. Then when I
got my draft notice, I would have 30 days to respond. Wait until day 28 to mail
my letter telling them I was in school, he advised. It would take them at least
another 30 days or longer to get back to me. And so it went until finally in
the summer of 1971 I’d run out of options – just like the Colonel had said.
one more suggestion: Go see a local recruiter and find out what he can offer
you. Again, I expected the “Go Army” sales pitch only to find a Sergeant First
Class who was as practical as the Colonel. If I let them draft me, chances were
I’d do my two years in Vietnam.
enlisted for three years I could get one guaranteed choice – pick my job
classification or pick my duty assignment. With a newly minted Journalism
degree, picking my job sounded like the best choice. In typical recruiting
office fashion, my choice ended up being “clerk typist.” But he assured me I
could probably get that changed to “public information,” once I was in the
Army. Yea, right.
point I decided I’d fought the good fight, but it was over. I was about to be
in the Army and I’d go wherever they sent me – even Vietnam – and do whatever
they asked of me.
Day weekend, 1971 I boarded a bus for – of all places – Fort Leonard Wood,
Missouri about 100 miles due south of Columbia! After basic training I went on
to advanced training to become, as I called it, a “combat-trained clerk
smiled on me (it was about time) and I was assigned to a training brigade on
the post. After about 6 months I did indeed get my public information job –
just like the recruiter had said! My wife and I ended up spending my entire
three-year enlistment at Fort Leonard Wood. I never left the state I was born
time I got orders to ship out, it was to Vietnam. The notification came in
October, 1972 and I was to report in-country in January. But by the time the
Holidays rolled around I got word that my orders had been cancelled. The
ceasefire had ended further troop deployments– just like the Colonel had said.