Good morning and welcome once again to another edition of Breakfast On The Blog. Today a short story about:
THE LUCK OF THE DRAW
I’ve said here and elsewhere before that I have had an interesting life, not as interesting as many others, but certainly not lived along the straight and narrow path. A person’s life often has many pivotal moments, some of which determine the course of one’s life in profound ways. I had one such moment and it was on December 1st 1969.
That was the date of the Selective Service System of the United States’ first national draft lottery for induction into military service since 1942. All men of draft age (born 1944 to 1950) were required to participate in the lottery. And the war they were sending young men off to fight was in Vietnam. 366 numbers, one for each day of the year including February 29th, were written down on paper, put into capsules, which were in turn put in a shoe box. This was then shaken up and the capsules were dumped into a deep glass jar. Representative Alexander Pirnie (R-NY) drew the first number, which was 258 (September 14), so all registrants with that birthday were assigned lottery number 1. Their ass was grass. And so it continued.
I was 19 in December 1969 and in my sophomore year of college. I remember sitting around in the dorm watching someone’s television as the numbers were picked. Everyone was sweating it out, hoping their birth date would not be chosen early. And I lucked out. My birth date number was the 278th one to come out of the jar. My roommate’s number was 229. Naturally we would have liked numbers over 300, but ours seemed high enough. We celebrated afterward by smoking a few joints. Along with our student deferments we figured we could at least avoid being sent to Vietnam until we graduated. As it turned out, the highest number drafted in this group of men was 195. Some of my other friends weren’t so lucky.
Though my father had been a career military man and had fought in the Korean War, and I had virtually been in the army my whole life, I knew I wasn’t military material. And I was strongly opposed to the war, for that fact, any war. I respected those who answered the call, after all, some of them were my friends, but I despised the government that was sending these young kids over to fight a senseless war. Now as I said, some of my friends weren’t so lucky. One friend with a really low number promptly fled to Canada with his girlfriend. Another acquaintance skipped off to Sweden. And quite a number of my friends were subsequently drafted and sent off to war. Tommy was the only son of one of my mother’s friends. He was a few years older than I was so I didn’t know him all that well, but we had gone to school together when our parents were stationed in Europe. Back in the United States he had gone on to college, graduated and went into military service as an officer, trained and became a helicopter pilot. He volunteered for duty in Vietnam, was shipped over, and was there for about a month when he got his head blown off. His mother was devastated.
Sitting around one stoned afternoon in the fall of 1970 my friend and I decided that our fate was written on the wall. With any luck we would complete college and then be drafted into the service, most likely as officers. Visions of eventually being killed by our own troops because we weren’t gung ho military men danced through our thoughts. So we figured, why wait? We could face a year’s eligibility as 1-A while we were still in college and hope that they wouldn’t get up to our numbers. So we turned in our student deferments, were classified as 1-A through 1971 and, that year the highest number called was 125. There had been an large influx of new 18 year olds to induct that year. And I got real lucky for a second time. Once my year was up and I hadn’t been called I was put into a special classification called 1-Y that meant I would only get called up in the event of a large national emergency, that status lasting until I was 26.
I was indeed lucky. A number of my friends got killed in Vietnam. Some came back and were never the same. Some it didn’t faze at all. I spent the second semester of my junior year sharing a house with several students, one of whom had come back from his duty in Vietnam and enrolled in college. He was a farm boy from northern Virginia and because he was real good with a rifle he became a sniper. They put him out at the end of the runway at the Da Nang airbase in a little tower with another guy. It was their job to kill the Vietcong as they tried to shoot down the planes landing and taking off. He fought a one to one fight, saying that he always knew when he killed one of the enemy soldiers. He also told me that the only way he survived it all and came through relatively unscathed was because they stayed loaded out in that tower, smoking lots of strong weed. He had a number of other stories to tell and through his eyes I saw what some of the Vietnam experience was really like. He seemed unaffected by it all.
Although I was adamantly opposed to the war, I was not one of those who despised or spit on the returning Vietnam vets. I knew what a difficult time they’d been through and to this day thank them for their service and sacrifice. But above all else, I have always known that the course of my life had been determined by the luck of the draw…
© 2015 nightpoet all rights reserved