Live from Washington, It's Lottery Night 1969!

Live from Washington, It’s Lottery Night 1969!

By Wesley Abney
11/25/2009 • Vietnam Point of View, Vietnam War

On the evening of December 1, 1969, officials of the Selective Service and the U.S. Congress post birth dates in ascending order, as they are drawn in the first Vietnam-era draft lottery at Selective Service headquarters in Washington. The broadcast of the event was carried live over the radio and on CBS. (National Archives)
On the evening of December 1, 1969, officials of the Selective Service and the U.S. Congress post birth dates in ascending order, as they are drawn in the first Vietnam-era draft lottery at Selective Service headquarters in Washington. The broadcast of the event was carried live over the radio and on CBS. (National Archives)

That night, if a man got a low number, he quickly had to size up his immediate future.

Forty years ago, on the evening of December 1, 1969, CBS News pre-empted the regularly scheduled broadcast of Mayberry RFD to pick up a live feed from Washington correspondent Roger Mudd at the Selective Service headquarters. “Good evening…Tonight for the first time in 27 years the United States has again started a draft lottery,” said Mudd in whispered tones as the ceremony proceeded in the background.

For all its life-changing, big-moment drama, as theater the drawing for the 1970 draft was a low-budget affair, staged on a nondescript set with an odd assortment of  office furnishings pushed to­gether. All 366 blue plastic lottery “capsules” had been unceremoniously dumped into a large glass container perched precariously atop a plain library step stool. A somber-looking official sat at a small table cloaked with black fabric, ready for the lottery ceremony to begin. To pick each lottery number, someone would simply reach into the water cooler–sized jar to pull out a capsule. Tucked inside was a birth date that would be read aloud and assigned its lottery number, starting with No. 001.

New York Congressman Alexander Pirnie, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, had been invited by longtime Selective Service Director General Lewis B. Hershey to draw the first number. Pirnie stepped up, pulled out a capsule and handed it to the official at the table, who opened the capsule, unrolled the paper and announced: “September 14…September 14 is 001.”

The small slip of paper was then fastened in the 001 position on a large board listing numbers from 001 to 366, a slot for each birthday, including February 29 for leap year babies. Atop the board was the heading: Random Selection Sequence, 1970.

For the millions of young men and their families watching on TV or listening over the radio, it was the one time they instinctively didn’t want to have the lucky number. The Selective Service had estimated that those with numbers in the lowest one-third would likely be drafted; those in the upper one-third were likely safe; and those in the middle might or might not be drafted. That night, if a man got a low number, he quickly had to size up his immediate future.

Tom, No. 030: “Since 1969 I have been telling friends that the only lottery that I have ever won was the 1969 draft lottery. I remember being in the den of my dorm watching TV with all the other residents, most all eligible for service. I was a junior. My number came up quickly. I knew that from that moment on my life’s highest priority was dealing with the draft and the Vietnam War. School, family and friends took a back seat.”

After the first pick, Pirnie stepped aside and yielded the spotlight to Selective Service Youth Advisory Council delegates, who then took turns drawing five or six capsules apiece. President Richard M. Nixon insisted that young people from across the country participate in the lottery to show that draft-age men and women were involved in the process. Paul Murray, a student from Rhode Island, was the first delegate up: “April 24…April 24 is 002.” “December 30…December 30 is 003.” And so it went. [TO SEE THE LIST OF LOTTERY NUMBERS FROM 1970 VIETNAM DRAFT LOTTERY, GO TO “WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER ONLINE EXTRA.]

Jim, No. 002: “I was able to attend college via a generous scholarship through the Navy ROTC. Following my graduation in January 1970, with a degree in journalism, I was destined to go into the Navy. Even so, the lottery was a memorable day, night and morning after. I was No. 2, April 24, and that was a cause for a celebration. I remember the bar where we started drinking, but the march down State Street will be forever lost in a fog. Being No. 2, whenever the cry went up for lottery numbers, I was always the winner, and the beer was free for me. Even though the lottery didn’t determine whether I served in the military, it impacted many of my friends. I ended up serving two tours in Vietnam, and being in the Navy taught me how much I was capable of doing, and that nothing was impossible. Those were great years—and not so great years—all rolled into one.”

Reporter Mudd explained to his viewers how the ceremony unfolding behind him was much less elaborate than the one in 1940, when the United States prepared for World War II. “Twenty-nine years ago, for instance, Secretary of War Harry Stimson was blindfolded with a swatch of upholstery that had been clipped from one of the chairs used in the signing of the Declaration of Independence.” Back in 1940, as warplanes flew in formation over the Selective Service building, inside the lottery numbers were mixed with a wooden paddle that was supposedly carved from one of the rafters of Independence Hall. Stimson drew the first number and handed it directly to the president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who then read it to the assembled audience. The only carry-over from the 1940 event, explained Mudd, was General Hershey himself, who back then “was the new Selective Service executive director, and who tonight opened the ceremonies as the outgoing director.”

Gen. Lewis B. Hershey (left), the feisty Selective Service director, presides over the lottery as NY Cong. Alexander Pirnie draws the first of the 366 blue capsules containing birth dates. (National Archives)
Gen. Lewis B. Hershey (left), the feisty Selective Service director, presides over the lottery as NY Cong. Alexander Pirnie draws the first of the 366 blue capsules containing birth dates. (National Archives)
The feisty 76-year-old general was a favorite target for antiwar protesters. In October 1967, in response to campus demonstrations, he had issued the so-called “Hershey Directive” recommending to all local draft boards that men interfering with military recruitment on a college campus should be subject to immediate reclassification of draft status. Hershey was picketed at Columbia, booed off the stage at Howard, and his car pelted with eggs in Wisconsin. He was satirized at peace rallies by a street performer who called himself “General Hersheybar,” dressed in bogus military regalia with a toy fighter jet dangling from his cap.

Although Hershey had recently been reassigned from his post at the Selective Service, he was allowed to remain on the job long enough to preside at the first drawing of the revived lottery. The drawing came just five days after President Nixon had signed changes to the draft law, calling for the national lottery.

Gary, No. 023: “In 1969, I was in my fourth year at college. I lived in a small apartment building…and everyone in the building crammed into my room to watch the lottery on my old black and white TV. Someone brought a six pack of beer that was to be awarded the ‘winner,’ i.e. the person having the lowest number of all the guys in the building. Well, unfortunately I won the six pack with No. 23. It was such an insignificant prize for something so potentially awful, but somehow I felt OK about it. At least I didn’t have to wonder what to do, as some of my friends had to with numbers around 180. I drank the six pack, joined the Army Reserves (after graduating in 1970), and retired 31 years later as a sergeant major.”

An estimated 850,000 young men would learn their draft futures in the first lottery. Every male aged 19 to 26, whose draft status had not already been resolved, had a stake in the outcome, as it would determine the order in which men born between 1944 and 1950 were called to report for induction in 1970.

The biggest change in the 1970 draft was that it reversed the age priority—instead of taking the oldest men first from the 18- to 26-year-old eligible range, local boards would now call the 19-year-olds first. The good news was that most men’s uncertainty over their draft status would be shortened. Prior to the 1970 changes, there was no system to determine the order of call by age—everyone between 18 and 26 was vulnerable to being drafted. Young men might wait years to learn their draft future. Since older men in the draft-age range were called first, younger men trying to move forward with careers or marriages and family could only wait and wonder if their lives would be interrupted by required military service.

Under the previous system, in addition to each draft board applying the “oldest men first” priority in meeting the local manpower quota, it also decided who would be granted deferments, such as whether a man qualified as a conscientious objector, was entitled to a family hardship deferment or was making satisfactory progress toward a college degree. Those dissatisfied with their draft status could appeal the local board’s decision, through the draft system and the courts, for months or years. By 1969 the rate of draft status appeals had doubled over that of the Korean War.

The Vietnam War’s growing unpopularity led to greater scrutiny of the draft process. Increasingly, politicians, labor unions and university leaders pointed to racial bias, class or income bias and drastic differences in the practices of local draft boards, which became the target of antiwar protests in the mid-1960s. Demonstrators staged sit-ins at draft board proceedings, protesters burned records in a number of major cities, and a radical priest doused records at the Baltimore draft board with duck’s blood.

Mike, No. 217: “A 19-year-old from a middle class family in New Bern, N.C., was simply not equipped to handle or understand all the various sides of the war issue, and I do not even today. Like everyone else, I did my best to avoid the draft….However, in the summer of 1969, I found myself at Cape Cod, Mass., where I was exposed to both drug parties and to young platoon leaders barely two years out of college coming home on leave from Vietnam or getting out of the Army. Seeing my friends getting further involved in the ‘drug of the day’ did little to impress me, but I was moved by the calm confidence of these returning vets, only 3-4 years older than me. At summer’s end, I chose to enlist in the Army. After a year in infantry training, I was sent to Vietnam, where I sloshed through rice paddies and served with some of the most memorable ‘buddies’ I have had the privilege to be around. Thanks to my time in Vietnam, I have been able to face many challenging decisions with the same calm confidence displayed by the young platoon commanders I so respected in the summer of ’69.”

The simplest way to solve the problems of the draft system was to get rid of it, and convert the military to an all-volunteer force. Volunteers alone, however, could not maintain the necessary troop levels in Vietnam. President Nixon, unable to abolish the draft system during his first year in office because of the war’s manpower demands but hoping to defuse the unrest, had moved instead to reform the draft in 1969 while proposing the switch to an all-volunteer force. He had pushed for the change in age priority, and called for a national lottery. Following massive antiwar protest marches in Washington in October and November 1969, Congress had approved the move to a lottery system, and Nixon signed the new law on November 26.

The lottery, and other draft law revisions, were viewed by President Richard Nixon as a way to take some steam out of the student-led protests sweeping the nation, such as this one in Washington. (Selective Service Archive)
The lottery, and other draft law revisions, were viewed by President Richard Nixon as a way to take some steam out of the student-led protests sweeping the nation, such as this one in Washington. (Selective Service Archive)
Nixon hoped the lottery would at least restore the perception of fairness to the draft process and reduce campus protests by essentially eliminating draft vulnerability for students with the highest numbers. Those with numbers in the middle, however, had to stand by and watch the tally of numbers rise month by month as draft quotas were met.

The Order to Report for Physical Examination letter was the first step of being drafted into the armed services. The lottery numbers of 19-year-olds were called at a rate of about 30 per month during the first half of 1970, so someone with a low number would likely be summoned to the physical exam by February 1970, and be either deferred or inducted into the service by May. If an individual’s number wasn’t called during 1970, chances are he would not be called at all—unless he had an expired college deferment.

If a man was fit for service, he was classified 1-A, which meant he was available for military service immediately. If he was fit for service, but did not want to go to war, he had 10 days to file a claim for exemption, postponement or deferment. A conscientious objector was classified 1-A-O, “available for noncombatant military service only.” The Order to Report for Induction letter was the official notification that an individual was drafted. The highest lottery number called for a physical in 1970 was 215, and all men with the No. 195 or lower, classified 1-A or 1-A-O, were called to report for possible induction.

In 1970 a person could qualify for a deferment if he could prove he was a full-time student, progressing toward a degree. He could continue in school and be deferred until he was over 26, too old to be drafted. After 1971, however, Congress changed the draft laws, and college students could have their inductions postponed only until the end of the current semester, or for a senior, until the end of the school year.

Mark, No. 069: “As long as I was an undergraduate, I was deferred, but my low lottery number meant that I would be first to go after graduation. At the time I was 5’11 3/4” and only weighed 135 pounds, and I was told that if I weighed 127 pounds I would be deferred. The summer after graduation, I went on a diet and lost a few pounds before my draft physical. The night before my physical, I weighed 127, but was very concerned I would be inducted, so I went to a health club and sat in a steam room off and on for hours….When I was weighed, I was 115 pounds and they gave me a 1-H classification and told me I had to come back in 6 months.”

The last date drawn in the 1970 lottery, No. 366, was June 8. “This has been a very systematic, almost mechanical, lottery,” reported Roger Mudd. “There’s been little excitement here but for one or two brief occasions. Four or five of the youth advisory council members declined to participate, claiming that they thought they were being used by the Nixon administration to give a youth approval to the lottery system.” The next day, a newspaper story reported: “David L. Fowler, representing the District of Columbia, stepped up to the microphone and said he had been ‘notified’ not to draw and walked out. Nevertheless, Gen. Lewis B. Hershey, 76, Selective Service director who has been accused of heavy-handed draft policies, rose and shook Mr. Fowler’s hand.” Neither Hershey nor any of the other officials moved to cut off the statements of the other participants who spoke out. About a dozen demonstrators were reported picketing outside, denouncing the draft, the lottery and the war.

Peter, No. 303: “On the day the lottery numbers were announced, everyone was very quiet on my dorm floor. I found out my number was 303. I had lucked out. One of my closest friends, Glen, wasn’t as lucky. His number was 36. But Glen was the eternal optimist. I’ll always remember his reaction: ‘So I’ll go…and I’ll come back.’ He was the first on the floor to go to Vietnam. He wrote me often from his outpost…and even sent me back one of his green army shirts with his name sewed on above the breast pocket. I went on to be a correspondent for Newsweek and covered the war at home. In the end, Glen kept his word. He went to Vietnam. He came back, and thankfully in one piece…physically. But mentally he was never the same…he simply stopped writing and disappeared. I still have that shirt today, a reminder of how the lottery changed both our lives.”

Probability studies of the 1970 lottery results indicated that the selection process was not entirely random as intended––birth dates occurring later in the year were disproportionately likely to be chosen early. This was most likely a result of insufficient mixing of the capsules. A court challenge ensued, but the lottery results were upheld. In the subsequent lotteries, a different procedure was utilized to ensure the capsules were fully randomized.

On January 27, 1973—the day the Vietnam cease-fire was announced—the administration stopped the draft, six months before the draft law was to expire on July 1, 1973. The last draft lottery was on December 7, 1972.

Except for a one-year hiatus, the draft had remained continuously in effect from World War II until it was abolished in 1973. General Hershey, still refusing to relinquish his Army career that began in 1911, was involuntarily retired on April 10, 1973, just as the draft he ran for so long gave way to the all-volunteer military. *

Author Wes Abney’s birthday was picked as No. 210 in the 1969 lottery drawing. He then flunked his physical—he swears unintentionally! After a recent visit with an old friend brought back vivid memories of anxiously watching the lottery, Abney decided to create a website where people could share their own stories. He invites draft lottery participants to add their memories at:

50 Responses to Live from Washington, It’s Lottery Night 1969!

  1. Chuck says:

    Interesting story, I am 75 years old and during the Korean War, I recieved my selective service card. I was classifed C-3 because I am blind in my right eye. I never gave the selective service much thought and even failed the pre induction test in Oregon where I lived at the time. I later moved to Fresno, California to attend college and in the mean time I got married. I had only been married about 6 months when I got a notice to report for an induction physical. I was told to bring just enough clothes as if I passed, I would be immediatly inducted and on a bus to Fort Ord. I was sure they would not take me and I don’t think I even kissed my new bride goodbye and said I will see you this evening. Boy was I surprised when that afternoon I was told that “one eye won’t keep you out” and inducted on the spot. I finally got to a phone and called my wife and told her the news and said I will see you in about 8 weeks.
    I eventually took my basic training at Fort Lewis, Washington and went to photography school at Fort Monmouth, NJ. I the went to Fort Lee, VA where I got into the entertainment branch and finished my hitch there.
    I would like to say my induction into the Army was a great turning point in my life albiet traumatic at the time, I greatly benefitted from it. It made me a much better person and I am proud of my little contribution to our great country.
    God Bless the U.S.A. and all those great troups we have serving in this volunteer service. I still think that the selective system worked well and maybe we should not shelve it permately.
    I would gladly serve again, one eye and all, if I could.
    Chuck Dishno
    Dillon, Montana

    • caroline says:

      were you scared…i think you should have mentioned more what you felt. i cannot believe that you were proud of this. i would have been mad that they made me leave my bride without warning.

  2. M Otero says:

    Great article. There is one loophole in the process that was not mentioned. For at least the first year of the lottery, a person was allowed to change his status up to the last day of the year and still get credit for being draft eligible for the entire year. This amounted to allowing someone with a student deferment (1S) to contact his local draft board in December and request 1A status and thus get credit for being 1A the entire year and successfully pass through the lottery untouched. Since they announced the a freeze of callups in December, I had friends with low numbers who successfully did this. I was lucky to have #241.

  3. Bob Morris says:

    I was drafted, 10 Aug 66 and served with Alpha, 2/28 and Charley, 1/26 during 67-68. Checking my birthdate, I drew 017. Karma says I got the better deal in spite of a bullet wound to the head that enabled me to come home via Japan. Such a deal…a tough time for the American Society. BMorris

  4. Rich Kovacs says:

    I always knew it was a Republican who chose my number!!! It is the only lottery i have ever won. Sept 14 is my birthday, No. 1, and I was in the Army by Jan.30th,1970.

  5. frank d blandori says:

    Iam looking for my old draft card from dec 1969 from the Downey calif
    draft board where i had to reg ,I then ended up in LA Calif induction center and then off to fort Ord . can anyone show me the right places to look?

  6. Dennis says:

    I knew those of us with late-year birth dates were in trouble when the 12 buckets, each with one month’s capsules, were ceremoniously dumped into the glass container, one at a time, starting with January & ending with December. I also remember how poorly the capsules were stirred. The “What’s your Number” link above bares this out.

  7. R. Kronenberg says:

    This being the only lottery that I won also. Already had passed phyiscal my birthday being Sept. 14 recieive my notice for a Christmas present and left on my Mothers birthday, Jan. 19, 1970. On top of this they selected me and some others to go into the Marine Corp so off to Diego to MCRD and the Corp for 2 years

  8. Dennis says:

    The easiest way to beat the draft during the Vietnam war was to fail your pre induction physical. There was a book out at the time by David Suttler called, “Your 4F guide to the Draft.” By 1970 it was in it’s
    5th printing and was considered a small treasure. The book was available at most college book stores.

  9. Robert Neil Coupe says:

    Despite being born in England in 1953 I also lived in the United States from 1956 to 1976, and I still remember the 1972 Vietnam War Draft Lottery night well. I was in my senior year of high school in a suburb of Buffalo, NY at the time I was involved in that draft lottery on 2 February 1972. I was one of the lucky ones to become exempt on the spot by drawing a high number, which was number 358, and I still remember jumping for joy and having a celebration beer when my mother told me my number. There was no way I wanted to fight, especially because I felt it was an unnecessary war, and I still can’t blame those with low numbers who fled to Canada to dodge the draft. I would have done the same thing myself if I had the misfortune of drawing a low number. Even despite my elation of being exempt with a high number I still felt sorry for those unfortunate to get low numbers. War is cruel and barbaric in my opinion when it comes to conscription, and I still hope conscription never returns again in any country that abolished it, including Britain and USA, even though I am probably too old now for it to have any chance of affecting me if it did return..

  10. DANIEL REDMOND says:

    Reading the results of the first draft lottery in December 1969 was a happy day for me. I got number 352 and knew from that moment on that I’d never be drafted. Vietnam was without a doubt the dumbest, most ill-conceived and pointless conflict our nation ever got involved in and it wasted hundreds of thousands of lives if you count our dead and wounded soldiers, Vietnam veteran suicides, mental cases, etc. What was our stated purpose over there anyway? To stop South Vietnam from becoming Communist? Well it did become Communist in 1975 and who cares? Now Communist Vietnam is a trading partner with the U.S.A. and we’ve borrowed a trillion dollars from Communist China.

  11. RUSS says:

    On Dec 1st 1969 I drew #277–I had 7 weeks to DEROS— Im glad to have served.

    • Dale, Michael R. says:

      On Dec. 1, 1969 I drew number 1, and 3rd in the alphabet. I had just DEROS’ed (ETS’ed) at the end of August, after a year in RVN with an Infantry MOS. I’m glad I came back. So many good men didn’t …..

  12. gordon watts says:

    I volunteered to join the USAF at 18 yrs. old on 11/22/68 not knowing where I would be sent for duty. On Dec. 1, 1969 my lottery number was 28 I would have been drafted for sure. Where did I do my time, 6mos. in Texas, 7mos. in Spain, and 2 1/2 yrs in Rome, Italy wearing Italian suits, living in an apt. with 2 other Airman, eating my meals in Italian resturants, and doing communications for a small detachment of the OSI at Ciampino Airport unitl I was discharged 5 mos. early in 1972. Was I lucky or what?

  13. Bob Ricks says:

    I was told in Sept 69 that my draft board would do nothing until the lottery. They lied. I reported for induction on Nov 10. My number on lottery night was 358. My wife told me. I was in basic. Ended up in Germany and toured Europe with my wife. Very lucky.

  14. Earl says:

    I was 19 on Dec.1 1969 I was barely 19 years old and the lottery drew my number 286. I remembering smiling as my 1st class petty officer said they probably wouldn’t have drafted you. I just told him I wouldn’t gotten to work with you then. I was kind of a smart a** back then. I was already in the Navy by them. By the way, I never served in Vietnam, but still served my country Proud I served. Support the troops.

  15. Rick Lehman says:

    I was 19 in Dec 69, in college, and drew #295 in the lottery… But in my mind, I’d been planning to follow in my fathers footsteps (why,why not)… So in 1970 I graduated and went off to join the Army and fly helicopters. In 71-72, I was flying Medevac for the 1st Cav in Vietnam. As a MSC officer flying Medevac and Dustoff missions in support of our troops and civilians I was very privileged to serve our nation. Back in the States I flew Dustoff two more years out of Ft Lewis covering the state of Washington, again for the military as well as the civilian world (MAST program). What more could a young man ask for? I am proud to have served…

  16. chuck says:

    I enlisted and went in the army in Feb of 69. When the Dec 69 numbers were picked I believe my birth date was picked as #90, which meant I would have been drafted. Reading all the comments here, many remind me of the creative ways some used to avoid the draft.. I also remember a doctor’s son in my class at school who always did well in gym, suddenly getting a medical deferment – reasons unknown . By 1972 there were many thousands who dodged the draft and went to Canada. Most who serve know are respected and thought of as heroes , whether in combat or not. Guys in the Army at that time were not generally thought of in the same light . For those who served in Vietnam, especially in combat, I and all should salute you.

  17. Dan Boutwell says:

    I was 21, married with a pregnant wife on the night of the drawing. All deferments were removed, everybody faced the same odds. My number was 160 for Sept. 22. It is my understanding that the highest number taken was 195. Why was I not taken? It is a question that has plagued me for forty-three years. I would not have dodged it. Why was I not taken?

    • Bill K says:

      Not every draft board had to conscript up to the highest number recorded, which was 215, not 195. I was number 215 and was never called either. Draft quotas varied according to the population of the county they represented. My draft board was responsible for Nassau County, New York, which was overflowing with able-bodied 19 year-old baby boomers. So they didn’t have to draft up to 215 to meet their monthly quotas. I’m guessing that’s the same reason you weren’t called.

  18. john says:

    my number was 74. i was a junior in college. i was lucky enough to get my name on a waiting list for a national guard unit. i was originally told the wait would be 2 years. the postoffice went on strike in spring of 1970 natl guard units were called up and federalized for a few days. anyine with less then a year was discharged. i was able to join in aug. 1970 and served until aug. 1976 well after the war and draft ended. i left school in nov.1970 to report to fort knox for basci and ait. i think that iwas very lucky and do not regret having been in the national guard for 6 years.

  19. Dr Sheldon Berger says:

    The extremely poor way this was done, non-randomly, was criminal.

  20. Don Graeter says:

    I was a 1965 high school graduate scheduled for college graduation in 1969.

    Those times were very stressful if you were “in the zone.” The main source of stress for many of us was the uncertainty of it all before the lottery. When I went off to college in the fall of 1965, the student deferment was good for as long as you were a full time student pursuing a degree, including graduate degrees. With the need for additional manpower, the student deferment was ended for graduate school around 1967, which brought it all fast forward for many of us who planned to go to graduate and/or professional school. (Some student deferments continued for medical, dental, engineering and divinity students for example.) The lottery itself was actually a big positive because it provided a considerable measure of certainty, at least compared to what existed before.

    The draft wasn’t designed to be unfair and certainly wasn’t designed to persecute any socio economic groups. It was, however, very decentralized with considerable latitude given to the volunteer local draft boards as to how each implemented a fairly limited set of national guidelines.

    I gave a talk to a group several years ago about how it worked and why. What it basically boiled down to was an approach adopted during the Truman Administration which took the philosophy that the national interest dictated that the draft not be an “everybody goes in uniform” approach but one which was designed to maximize the national manpower. With hindsight, it was felt, especially in the scientific community, that national security had been jeopardized with the everybody goes approach of WWII in that the nation was dangerously short of scientists, etc. after the war and that only 5 years of peace between WWII and Korea had saved us. The idea was that some young men were more valuable to the nation in uniform and others more valuable as doctors, engineers, etc. Also, there was always protection given to fathers, even in WWII.

    The feeling was that the foregoing decisions were best left at the local level with draft boards closest to the draft age young men. Hence the system became highly localized.

    After Korea, the rising birth rate and absence of hot conflicts led to a considerable surplus of excess young men in the pool. As a result, the number of deferments and exemptions grew to manage the “1A” pool to the size needed.

    When the Vietnam draft calls blew up the numbers almost overnight, the system just wasn’t prepared for it. Boards had radically different approaches depending on a few volunteer board members. Some were very “easy” with deferments, others very tough, though all were ostensibly operating under the same national guidelines. The foregoing led to a system which was easily manipulated if one really wanted to do so.

    My board (Louisville, KY) was notoriously tough and unrelenting. Tiring of the constant stress of the uncertainty, I decided to join a Navy Officer (OCS) training program which opened up during my junior year at the local (Lexington, KY) Navy Reserve unit. While I had to attend drills, acceptance into this program allowed me to defer active duty for the extra semester I needed due to having switched majors once I figured out what I was doing. Without the deferment, my draft board would have grabbed me immediately after my 8th semester, though other boards were considerably more lenient.

    During my 9th semester (fall 1969), Nixon brought in the lottery and I drew a totally safe number (345 or something like that). Of course I was already in the Navy and dropping out of OCS meant going two years enlisted instead of 3 as an officer–no good deal in my book.

    After graduation, I was sent in 1970 to Navy OCS at the base in Newport, RI. A week before I was due to be commissioned the Navy changed the rule and dropping out meant you were released from the Navy but subject to the draft. Of course, I was home free with my lottery number.

    In the end, I just couldn’t go in and resign because I didn’t feel right about it. I had basically completed OCS and didn’t want to have to tell my children someday why their father hadn’t served in a time when so many had died. The point wasn’t how I felt about the war one way or the other. The point was a sense of my duty as a citizen.

    So, I stayed in. It was one of the best decisions of my life. I served on an amphibious ship homeported in Norfolk, VA and made friendships which last to this day. In fact, the six of us then junior officers who were best friends had a 40 year reunion of our 1972 deployment to the Med this past spring in Annapolis.

    At dinner with our wives in Annapolis, we toasted two close friends no longer with us–our executive officer who was later killed in an accident on duty and the pilot of the American Airlines flight which crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11/01–“Chick” Burlingame.

    I thank the Lord every time I pray for the decision I made back then–a decision I made for no other reason than that I thought it was the right thing to do. My Navy service was one of the highlights of my life. Without the draft, I wouldn’t have done it. Had the lottery been sooner, before I joined the Navy program, I wouldn’t have done it either.

  21. George says:

    Already been in Vietnam 6mos. no lottery when I was drafted. If you were 1A everybody was a winner. No idea where my birthday fell in the order. Remember hearing something about it but didn’t mean much to us.

    I did survive in one piece. Still don’t know if it was the grace of God or just the war lottery. The men that went over there for an ungrateful nation were the best of their generation.

  22. john says:

    iwas totally unaware this was happening. i was in college at the time. the next day i found out my number was 74. eight months later i was lucky enought to join the army national guard. i served from august 1970 to august 1976. i was very lucky. i spent six years in a mdeical battalion.

  23. Terry Brown says:

    After a 33 hour labor, I was finally delivered via forceps at 2:00 A.M. on Jan. 27, 1947. It was in a small office that was not equipped for C-sections (thank God!) I must have known something back then because the dates, Jan. 25, 26, and 27, were # 52, 94, and 355 respectively. Missed Nam by only 2 hours!!! Thank you, mom.
    Just retired after serving my country as a teacher for 41 years.

  24. Justin Kashtock says:

    I don’t know for certain if they’ll have yours, but here is a good place to start if you’re still looking. Sorry it’s 3 years late.

  25. Tony Press says:

    Here’s my short story related to that night — “Standing Room Only” — published (w/audio available on the site) in Qarrtsiluni in 2010.

    It was on December 1st that Jacob and 100% of his floor-mates, sixty college freshmen, plus the R.A., the upper-classman who had his own room, and in return the responsibility for holding their hands when needed, packed the television room to watch the lottery. The lottery. Five years ago, at fourteen, he’d read Shirley Jackson’s chilling story, “The Lottery.” As he maneuvered into a niche near the back, he massaged his head to rid it of Jackson’s tale. By wordless consent the young men pushed the furniture to the walls and stood for the entire show. “The show” was an odd term for what they were about to see, yet that’s what had been on flyers in the dining hall and the elevators: “The show: Be there: Get Lucky or Kiss Your Ass Goodbye.”

    Fall quarter thundered toward finals and he had barely kissed a girl, much less “get lucky” in the way everyone else seemed to be doing. Every weekend another friend boldly or shyly bragged about sex, real sex, and all he did was read about it. He wasn’t sure he could stand four years of this if fiction was the closest he’d ever get.

    The boys who would be men were scared. They hadn’t done this before. Nobody had done this before, not since the dinosaur days of 1942. In minutes somebody was going to pluck little cylinders out of a drum. Inside were all the possible birth dates to be matched to a list of the numbers from 1 to 366 on the wall — they didn’t forget Leap Year. The date that matched with number one, every nineteen year old boy in the country with that birthday would be first in line to be drafted. The dream date would be number three hundred and sixty-six; those guys wouldn’t see a drill sergeant until the Red Army marched from San Francisco to and across the Mississippi River. The story was if your number was in the first third, you were cooked. If you were in the last third, you were golden. If you drew an in-between number, roughly one-twenty to two-forty, you hadn’t learned a thing. You were still stuck in the middle with little clue how to plan your life. That was the whole idea, they said, that by giving young men this information, they could in fact plan their lives without the uncertainty of the current stunningly random draft system.

    It was true that as long as they were in college, taking and passing a full load of classes, they were safe. Safe until they graduated, or dropped out, or sneezed in the wrong place. No, that latter happenstance, the sneezing in the wrong place, was the sort of thing that was no longer a factor. As long as you or your parents could afford college, okay. Of course, the sweeping changes had no effect on the upper class — even in the chaos of 1969, some things remained sacred. Nobody had any illusions that a rich kid couldn’t avoid the whole deal, and nobody had a single illusion that ninety-nine percent of them wouldn’t do exactly that.

    Safe, then, until they graduated, or dropped out. Jacob had no clue what his own plans might be, even apart from the threat of Vietnam. School was okay but it was no passion. Was he where he belonged? Six high school friends were on their way to Vietnam. Another, two years older, had burned his draft card and was in prison. Still another was feigning homosexuality, but also applying to divinity school, covering all bets. Jacob didn’t know anyone in Canada but he knew people who did.

    The room was usually noisy, to watch football games — this was different. Jacob thought he knew everyone at least on a some-name basis. One guy everybody called “Cowboy.” Several others were last-name guys, like Grauman and Preston and Rippinger, and Jacob couldn’t have said their first names on a bet. In September he had nudged his own name from Jacob to Jake, but sometimes he forgot that it was him they were calling. He knew he would always be Jacob at home.

    Street performers had hit campus earlier in the week:

    Join the army, see the world: Kill a gook, screw a girl.
    Get the clap, a purple heart: Some penicillin, a brand new start.

    He didn’t want any of that, not that way, and he certainly wasn’t a killer, of “gooks” or anybody else. Was he lucky or unlucky? He couldn’t say. Maybe his luck was waiting for something really important, like this lottery.

    One of Cowboy’s big hats perched on the television and everyone had dropped a dollar into it. The money was a consolation prize for the sucker whose birthday was drawn first. Jacob never wished ill on anyone but he implored the gods of fate to spare him that one.

    He was nineteen. Somebody thought he was a man. Who was he to plan his life? Washington’s good intentions, if that’s what they were, were wasted on him.

    This morning his US History professor told a story: Just before World War One, the Great War, “remember, the war to end all wars until the next one came along,” the famous Washington D.C. cherry trees were planted, thanks to the Japanese Ambassador, who brought cuttings from the even more famous Tokyo cherry trees. The trees, thousands of them, were the gifts of the Japanese people. Then in World War Two, the United States bombed the hell out of Tokyo, wiping out the trees, and a large amount of people, too, so after the war, the U.S. sent cuttings of the Washington trees back to Tokyo. Nothing to replace the people.

    The crowd crept even closer to the television to hear the first date. Jacob saw guys holding hands. He heard someone praying. He heard his own heartbeat.

    “September Fourteen.” Dave Rippinger — that was his name, Dave! — cursed and kicked the table, sending television, hat and cash flying to the floor, before storming out.

    Fifty-nine remained.

  26. Shelly says:

    This answer really hits me. My husbands birthday is jan. 25th I can’t even IMAGINE what \the lottery\ must have felt like for young men in those days. This lead me to ask my father some questions.

    My father (born oct. 5, 1947) was drafted #24. My grandmother did all the reading she could to keep her son safe. In the end he drove to Kansas City, mo a few months after for his exam and because he had to take 1 pill a day for his thyroid they sent him back home with a failed exam. Dr saying if he was captured he would not receive his daily pill and he would die. I would love to shake that Dr.’s hand and thank him.

  27. dean powell says:

    I got out of school in 68, went to work at a body shop painting cars. Just bought a new 1968 Chevelle SS 396. Man it was great. Met my future wife. Driving home the night of Dec. 1, 1969 I was listening to the lottery on the radio, but didn’t hear the first 100 or so numbers. Got home and ask my mom if she heard my number. She looked sad so I knew it was probably low, she said 22. I had turned 19 in June of that year. Jan. 15 1970 I was in Fort Lewis WA. I was scared, but I knew I was going to serve, and I’m proud I did. I met a lot of great guys and became good friends. Funny thing though I didn’t make enough money to make my car payments so had to let my brother take over. He sold the car before I got back home.

  28. Harry O says:

    I did not stay up to watch the drawing on TV. The next morning, several others in the college I went to brought in the local newspaper. The paper had all the numbers and dates on the front page. Everyone was checking what number they had, even if they already knew — probably hoping there was an error.

    I was asked what my number was. I looked and said \360\. The other guy said, \They will draft women and children before you.\ It is the only lottery I have ever won.

  29. george says:

    Drafted in ’69 I was already in Vietnam. We heard about the lottery got a laugh about what our number was and kept counting the days.

  30. Bob Ricks says:

    I agree with you. I also did not want to go into the military. Looking back now I am proud I went, proud I served and believe it was the best two years of my life. Anyone that did not have this experience missed something.

  31. Al Hubbard says:

    I lucked out with #309 in that first lottery, but I had already decided that I was going to eventually join the Navy, which I did in Nov of 1971. I had planned to stay for 20, but got out after 6 years. Glad I did it, and people who didn’t serve just can’t know what a good thing military duty can be.

  32. Thomas Boughter says:

    WOW Glad to hear everyones comments. Like all, I also have a story. I was born on Sept. 14, 1949. Sound familiar? I don’t know how many of us were 001, but it would be great to see a list. Entered military life Jan. 18, 1970. USMC Vietnam 70/71 Sept. 14, 1940 was the first peacetime draft. How about that. And one last thing, I was drafted out of high school. Go PHILLIES

  33. The draft says:

    […] “On January 27, 1973—the day the Vietnam cease-fire was announced—the administration stopped the draft, six months before the draft law was to expire on July 1, 1973. The last draft lottery was on December 7, 1972.” ( […]

  34. harry fowler says:

    Donald Trump’s draft # was ABOVE 300.

    • paul9r9r says:

      Trump did his draft evading long before the lottery, his number in the lottery was totally irrelevant since he had student deferments for years, and then when those ran out, the (already millionaire) got a private doctor to declare him unfit for service and he was classified as 1Y until he eventually was classified as 4F (the military ended use of 1Y, in December of 1971.

      Trump already had his medical deferment from his private doctor, long before the lottery number era, Trump was out of the game when the numbers were drawn, so that was a lie, and a cover story of his.

      • Hello Hello says:

        What is the lottery number for the President who loathed the military and when to Russia? Curious. Thanks.

      • paul9r9r says:

        I’m glad that you read my correction of the myth of Trump’s lottery number being the reason that he never served, as you see, the lottery came long after Trump’s years of draft evading and his phony appearing sudden medical deferment from a private doctor after being classified 1A by the draft doctors.

      • Hello Hello says:

        I take it that you are up on the lottery number of various Presidents. I am curious as to the lottery number of the President who loathed the military and went to Russia as a draft dodger from what I understand. I could be wrong though, but it just fascinates me when I see him walking in front of the troops in Roger Waters music called “Brain Damaged/Eclipse”. Could not be more appropriate.

      • paul9r9r says:

        I’m glad that you read my relevant post about our president, but you need to do your own research on unrelated topics that are of personal interest to you, I’m not here to do your history homework.

      • miserableoldfart says:

        hell o, you repeat the same vicious lie over and over and in your minuscule mind, it makes it true? Pathetic.

  35. miserableoldfart says:

    Just ran across this old article. I was number 85, but luckily got deferred until senior year of college when the draft ended. Shameful that America wasted so many lives in that disgraceful war. LBJ, by escalating the mess, gave rise to the “new right’ that has been eating away at the country like a cancer for the past 50 years. He also destroyed his legacy, which could have been one of the greatest ever. LBJ somehow extracts this country from Vietnam, and there is no nixon, no reagan, no bushes, and certainly not the orange lunatic we have now. Now the “conservatives” call it a “liberal war,” which it most certainly was not. All but a couple right wingers in the Congress supported the atrocity, and ALL the serious opposition came from the left. At the time, I thought it was as low as America could go, but the perma-wars in the middle east proved that I was too young and naive, and the Murkan right can get even uglier. And then there was the ridiculous invasion of Greneda, and though the numbers of dead were relatively small, it was insanity just the same. And the marines who died for nothing in Lebanon. If only our right wing hypocrites put as much effort into investigating that one as they did the dead in Benghazi. Oh well. the hypocrisy continues, as does the death.

  36. Alan Hubbard says:

    I fell asleep on the couch waiting for my number to be drawn-I lucked out at 309, but I ended up joining the Navy as a Corpsman anyway, not realizing that the Navy provided medical personnel for the Marines. I lucked out again and got sea duty with the SeaBees. Six of the best and worst years of my life……

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