In early 1968, my second attempt at college did the same thing as my first: fizzled out. However, I was then classified I-Y which supposedly meant that only when the Soviets landed at Myrtle Beach would I be pressed into military service. The I-Y classification was thanks to injuries from an automobile accident, which got me dropped from the Air Force before completing my training. In other words, I did not sense any problems from the draft board being headed my way.
Coincidentally with the Tet Offensive in February 1968, I was ordered to report for a physical to reevaluate my current classification. I was surprised, but given that I had spent several months in the hospital and the recovery had been rather slow, I thought that it was not beyond the realm of possibility that I just might get either my I-Y extended or even the treasured IV-F. I was really quite optimistic. I thought this would allow me to get on with life without any further thought of the draft, something which really controlled our lives at the time.
As an Army brat, whose father had served during WW2 and in Korea, I had few illusions regarding military service, my entire life being spent on Army posts, mostly in Europe. My father had landed on Utah Beach on D-Day and had been among those escaping the Chinese forces when they drove the Americans out of North Korea, being lucky to escape capture. As a brat, I spent time in 15 schools from one end of the world to another, becoming one of the world’s worst students. School was always a challenge, given that I never seemed to quite fit in, only sharing my my misery and sense of displacement with fellow brats.
To my shock and surprise–I was almost literally stunned–after the physical the local draft board reclassified me as I-A, in no small part thanks to the large number of young men in South Carolina being rejected for service. Lucky me. I appealed the decision and it looked as if it might work after the board deferred a decision for several months. Then, after several hearings, they turned down my appeal and sent me an induction notice. I was rather depressed, to say the least.
I was in-processed at Fort Jackson. At the same time I was at the Military Entrance Processing Station, the Marines selected a number from my group for the Marine Corps. They took all the big guys, meaning that the shrimps like me stayed in the Army; most of those selected for the Marine Corps were not happy. Unlike the others drafted, who got serial numbers beginning with US and starting with a 5, they simply put the US in front of my previous USAF serial number, meaning that I was already different–not a good thing. After Basic and AIT at Fort Jackson, I was hoping for either flight school (I had met all the qualifications necessary, plus I had already flown fixed wing aircraft) or OCS or something to avoid going to Viet Nam. Alas, the need for 11B’s meant that our orders for Viet Nam came down earlier than usual, taking precedence over everything else. I was told that when–and if–I came back from Viet Nam, I would be considered for flight school or OCS.
Thanks to luck and being airborne, I was somehow selected for assignment to the LURP (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) company of the 9th Infantry Division. In February 1969, we were designated as a Ranger company in the 75th Infantry (now the 75th Ranger Regiment), meaning that I became an original member of the regiment. After being shot down (three times), sunk (three times), as well as being shot and hit several times by grenade, RPG, and booby trap fragments, I somehow managed to complete my missions and survive my tour.
Just before my tour was over, they held the draft lottery on 1 December 1969. I did not even know about it until several days after it happened, when it appeared in a copy of Stars & Stripes we purloined from some REMF at the brigade tactical operations center that carried the story. Next to my birthdate was the number: 299. Of course, I also looked at those Vietnamese on my PRU team and realized their situation. But, still, 299? Here I was, sitting in the Mekong Delta with a draft lottery number of 299?
I returned to the US, completed my time, finished college, started grad school (after Viet Nam, I had “seen the light” when it came to academics), ended up back in the military after my options dwindled, and as an NCO with a graduate degree completed OCS (one of only 35 who finished out of 108 who started) at the age of 30. In 2003, I retired from the Army as a Colonel of Infantry, with time spent on the Army Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Staff. Apparently, not many of us draftees managed to do this sort of thing. I certainly never intended to.