Monday, June 30, 2008

A Lottery You Didn't Want to Win

When we were in school between 1969-1973, if someone mentioned the word "draft" they usually weren't referring to a sudden gush of wind coming into your dorm room.

They were talking about receiving a "Greetings from Uncle Sam" letter and the opportunity you couldn't refuse (unless you went to Canada) to go into the U.S. Armed Forces and see the world (especially a little place called South Vietnam).

For the first year or so we were at Vanderbilt, the draft offered exemptions for those in college full-time. It was called a 2-s deferment. Most of us kept the card granting the deferment in our wallet with our regular draft card.

But the draft began to change December 1, 1969 (see the photo above) when the Selective Service System held a lottery by birth date to determine the order of the draft (induction) into the Armed Services for all eligible men (18 years of age or older) born in 1950 or before. That, of course, included almost every undergraduate or graduate student male on the Vanderbilt campus at that time.

It did, however, exclude from the first lottery most, if not all members of our VU Class of 1973, (our lottery, for men born in 1951, was held July 1,1970). That's 38 years ago now.
Neverthless, I'll bet there is not a male member of our class reading this blog who doesn't remember that day of the first lottery in 1969 and his ultimate lottery number (mine was 151). I also suspect lots of the women remember their boyfriend's lottery number from that time as well (you are all welcome to post your thoughts and memories below!)

None of us were on campus when our 1970 draft lottery was held, but what I remember so clearly about the 1969 lottery was all the folks who descended upon or called WRVU that December day to find out what had happened and, most importantly, what their draft lottery number was!

The station became the place to go or call because it had a United Press International wire machine, and in those days, long before the Internet or the 24-hour, wall to wall news coverage of today on CNN or FOX, it was apparent the radio station was about the only place to quickly learn your fate.

At one point, we had people lined up all the way down two flights of steps coming up to the radio station in the south tower of Neely Auditorim. To be able to continue to operate the station, we finally posted the information down at the foot of stairs leading up to the studio, which helped clear out some of the crowd.

However, it didn't stop the phone from ringing, as our two lines (7424 and 7425) stayed jammed with people demanding to know what date their birthday fell in the lottery pool. Things got so frantic that when I answered the phone, the conversations went something like this:

"Hello, WRVU..."

"February 6"


"Hot damn!" (click)

"Hello, WRVU....

"November 22..."


"Oh my God..."

Class of 1973 member and WRVU Station Manager Steve Womack also relates the story of one student who came by the radio station that day and asked about his birthdate, September 14. It was #1. The student fainted.

I am not sure any future drafts ever went above 125 in calling up inductees and the draft was then suspended in July, 1973, right after we graduated from Vanderbilt and the War in Vietnam ended. But that doesn't mean, we didn't have one more queasy moment about the draft while we were students.

It occured a few months after our 1970 draft lottery. As I remember it (and I could be wrong) if you already had a 2-s deferment you could stay out of the draft as long as you stayed in school and passed your classes.

But in the fall of 1970, some kind of administrative paperwork glitch occurred that resulted in all the men on the Peabody campus (as few as there were in those days) receiving notices from their draft boards that they were about to reclassified 1-A (and then drafted).

Yikes! You can imagine the tumult and angst that resulted when those notices were received and how quickly all the draft-eligible men on campus (including me) descended upon Peabody officials to get that changed. Fortunately, it was. I am also told by Steve Womack of our VU Class of '73 that a similar incident occurred at Vanderbilt that same fall semester.

1 comment:

vandypitcher said...

boy....that aint no lie...that was some REALLLLLLL serious stuff...i am a hawk and have always been a hawk...and i think in a past life i " fought with patton " and spittt..BUT...i did NOT want to have to go half way around the planet and walk through rice patties and spittt looking out for BIG SNAKES...THAT was my biggest fear ( well....i hadnt heard of divorce attornies back THENNNN ) so i had the student thing 1-S or something...then i had a backup 1-Y ( asthma ..thank you mom ..she gotten that piece of paper for me) but i still had to go do my physical in nashville....i'm sweatting bullits cause if it wasnt for being on the baseball team....well...vanderbilt had no real use for ME trust i figure...let that big SGT guy running " this thing " think i cant hear....YEAH...thats a good you put these things on and this sound comes in your ears...i like you cant hear it until it blasts you off the face of the planet....BAD idea....i guess i wasnt the first one to try THAT " brillent" escape route cause the next thing i know that " big sgt " is knocking on my booth and he dont look happy OK...YOU CANT HEAR...?? he says to me... IF you saw him YOU would have said to yourself....IF you want to live another hour...DONT lie to THIS guy...even ALITTLE bit......ohhhhhhhh sorryyyy SIR....i thought i was pushing THE button....i can hear JUST fine....HE says ::....ONE MORE it right!!....SIR YES SIR....hell i pushed the button BEFORE he turned on the machine THAT time....well any way i graduate ( shut up...) and my 1-Y turns into 4--F for asthma ( thankyou JESUS )...but...i mean you still dont knowwww.....then they have that number thing for your birthday...and my birthday was like the next to highest number you could unless they drafted the president's dog AND daughter first....i wasnt going to have to go walk around posionous big snakes in rice i didnt have to go quick make babies...i didnt have to become an executive in canada...and i got on with learning how to sell life insurance in chattanooga ( since no matter HOW hard i tried i could not seem to make that baseball travel faster than about 82 MPH from the mound up to the plate which NO big league organ will pay you for to do for a living UNLESS you throw it from the " left " and it never travels in a straight line....i threw it from the "right" and it ALWAYS traveled in a straight line LOL ..thus i was about 1 of only 2 or 3 vandy pitchers back then that did NOT get paid to play pro ball after our college carrers were over ) ..been " selling life ins " ever since...but i do feel horrible for all those fine young men that were NOT as lucky as i was and who DID have to go " stompping through rice paddies with big snakes ( and other deadly things that go bump in the night ) all around them "....those were some REAL serious times....mark bode...class of