I was a journalism student at the University of Missouri. Thanks to a few “quirks of fate,” the draft lottery was essentially irrelevant to me. In 1968, I learned that I was going to be reclassified as 1-A in the draft system because I was five hours “behind” my planned trajectory toward graduation in 1969 (I think we were expected to matriculate for an average of 30 semester hours per year to maintain a student deferment). In order to continue my college “career,“ I looked for programs that would allow me to go into the military as an officer. A number of my MU friends were already in various ROTC programs and that seemed like a worthwhile option. Going to Canada was unthinkable and not an option for me. I was raised to believe that serving in the military was an honor and was expected.
For many of my contemporaries, merely being enrolled in a college or university allowed them to be classified as II-S (student deferment) and not be eligible for the draft until they graduated. I was in the Webster Groves draft board in suburban St. Louis, supposedly the largest in the state. Unfortunately, it had just been racked with scandal as some of the sons of draft board members were said to have found alternative military service in, for instance, the Colorado National Guard and were, therefore, not subject to being drafted. As a result, all enrolled college students in that draft board (me included) were informed that they had to prove that they were, indeed, eligible for the II-S deferment. Since I was “behind” in hours, my chances of remaining in college were almost nil.
The Army ROTC unit at MU had a waiting list of applicants, likewise with the Air Force. I wanted to be a pilot but that required at least a six-year commitment with the Air Force or Navy. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend that much time in the military. So, while once walking through the Student Union in the winter of 1968, I observed a group of “hippies” harassing a “very squared-away” Marine officer. They were asking him to show them how to kill babies, etc. The Marine Captain, a twice-wounded veteran of two combat tours in Vietnam, was calm, cool, collected and inspiring. He didn’t let the insults or slurs phase him in the least. I asked him what the Marines could offer me.
“A rifle, a trip to Vietnam and maybe a body bag to get you home,” was his terse and detached response. I reflected for a minute and thought to myself, “Sure…why not” and I signed “on the dotted line.” As it turned out I had signed up to go to Marine Corps Officers Candidate School in Quantico, VA, for the summer of that year. Presumably, I would then return to school and when I graduated in June, 1969, I would be commissioned as a second lieutenant of Marines and eventually undergo flight training and become a Naval Aviator (all Navy, Marine and Coast Guard pilots are designated as Naval Aviators).
I rationalized my rather hasty decision by knowing that I would become an officer. I also thought that Maine uniforms were impressive and that being a Marine pilot would be “cool.” What I did not comprehend, however, was how I was going to tell my parents about what I had done. My father, who served in World War II in the Navy, was apprehensive but supportive. Displaying true cowardice, I first told my mother that I thought I was joining the Peace Corps but there had been a mix-up. That didn’t work and when she learned the truth she cried (I now know that ALL mothers of soon-to-be Marines cry; that’s just the way it is).
Becoming a Marine was difficult, demanding and yet extremely fulfilling. I learned to do things that I didn’t think I could do in a million years. My attitude, confidence, demeanor and priorities all changed. I had a resolute purpose in life – to remain alive when I went to Vietnam! I was certain that I would be sent to fight. And, at the time, I didn’t question the war (that came later).
Other than being a husband and father, becoming a Marine officer was absolutely the best thing that I had or have ever done. At first, I was an infantry officer, communications officer and public affairs officer and then I went to Navy flight training and learned to fly airplanes and helicopters. I lived right on the beaches in San Diego and Pensacola, Florida. I also lived near the ocean in coastal South Carolina and aboard a number of Navy ships (what they say about landing on an aircraft carrier is all true).
In the 1970’s I was “living the dream” and, for whatever reason(s), I did not go to Vietnam (although twice I had orders to go there but it did not happen). The Marine Corps sent me to graduate school, also at Missouri. While flying medevac helicopters in Southern California, I met my wife, now a retired Navy captain. We have two fantastic sons and we’ve traveled all over the world – in the military and as civilians. None of this would have happened had it not been for the draft lottery that necessarily caused me to be proactive about my future.
Life was good for the naïve and impressionable college student who, because of a chance meeting with a Marine in the MU Student Union, was able to realize his dream of flying in the military. The fact that I ended up with a relatively high lottery number was, as previously indicated, irrelevant. But, had it not been for the then unpleasant prospect of being forced into what promised to be a very uncomfortable military situation precipitated by the draft lottery, things in my life might have been drastically different. I am happy the way things turned out and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.