December 1, 1969 — My 21st birthday, my first legal drink as a college senior, my future determined. It was quite a night at the 71 Club Bar in Turtle River, Minnesota, 10 miles north of Bemidji State College in Bemidji, Minnesota.
The evening was progressing nicely as four buddies and I watched the lottery on the black and white TV behind the bar. Then Dec. 1 was drawn–#129. Not in the lower third–a guaranteed draft notice. Not in the upper third–a guaranteed exclusion from the draft. But in the middle third, but only seven numbers into the middle third. Great! I knew I would lose my student deferment at the end of the quarter. Those classes I dropped that current quarter and previous spring put me in the “not making satisfactory progress toward graduation” category. I knew I couldn’t graduate by the end of spring quarter, but I figured I wouldn’t be drafted until at least the fall so . . . .
I am not proud of how I handled this situation. The summer of 1970 was spent in bouts of self-pity and way too much drinking. After being stopped once for having consumed too much alcohol and being let go by the local police in my hometown, the next time in a suburb of the Twin Cities I was not as lucky–A DWI and a night in jail sobered me up or at least slowed me down a bit.
I did graduate after the fall quarter of my fifth year (although not with the degree I wanted). I did get drafted on March 3 of 1971, a full 15 months after the drawing of the lottery. I did go to Vietnam as a clerk typist at the Army HQ in Long Binh. (I was first selected for AIT journalism training at Ft. Harrison, Indiana, but I was later rejected and made a clerk typist due to the DWI on my record) Amazingly I got honorably discharged after only 14 months and 5 days. 1971 and 72 were known as the “drawdown” period, when the number of troops in Vietnam was continually being reduced. After 8 months in country, I had been there longer than other people with my MOS, so I was sent home. Arriving back in the U. S. in April of 1972, I was asked if I wanted an immediate discharge or if I wanted to serve my full two years. That decision did not take long. (I did have to sign away a few months of educational benefits, but I used the remaining benefits to get the teaching degree I didn’t have time to get before being drafted).
I don’t regret my time in the service. I did not approve of the war, but I admit I was apathetic about it until it was too late to develop a plan to avoid the draft.
I recently presented a program at our town’s Veteran’s home on the history of the military draft in the U. S. It is obvious that everyone who was subject to the Vietnam Draft Lottery has a story and everyone loves to tell that story. Our local county museum is planning (at my suggestion) a program to commemorate the 50th anniversary of this event on Dec. 1, 2019.