Yes, Millennials and Gen Z have it rough, but there was also this little thing some college students dealt with back in the day. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Brother fled to Canada; broke my fathers heart; I married Vietnam vet with PSTD; horrifying abuse; did not understand; thank you for the parrot story. ❤️
I turn 70 in August. This means that I was in the second draft lottery for those born in 1952. I remember the first lottery that you describe as being for 1951 and all the years before as an attempt at an equitable draft. My lottery number, announced as 365, was important as I was in summer school (I needed to help my very poor first year GPA at Boston University). Odd as it may seem, my number wasn’t the highest as 1952 was a leap year. High school classmates born on just either side of my birthday had low numbers that might place them in the military. I discovered, as time went on and I found myself and my purpose (age 33 - entered seminary and became a Priest of the Episcopal Church), that gratitude at missing military service via the draft clashed with my awareness of what it means to live and serve in community. There is a longer story here, but on the day I was ordained priest in December 1989 I received my endorsement to serve as a Chaplain in the United States Army Reserve. Three months later I was commissioned and served just over six years. That service, and the oath I took to support and defend the Constitution of the United States sustains me today as I remember those who gave the last full measure of devotion to make possible something my 19 year old self could not see when faced with the trauma of the draft: “that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth” (with deep thanks to President Abraham Lincoln for his simple yet profound speech at Gettysburg November 19, 1963).
My two older brothers both enlisted in the Air Force right out of high school. Strange times these were. I remember our family all lining up if the phone rang and the operator said “…calling collect. Will you accept the charges?” One brother went to Vietnam and the other was stationed in Philippines Both brothers came home but were changed. Not the innocent young men that started that service tour.
I was born in 1954 and had spent my youth watching nightly news with pictures of body bags inVietnam every night. My year was a year when draft numbers were assigned but they never called anyone into service. My number was in the low 300s and my mother cried.
Many people remember the Vietnam war protests and the campus demonstrations but few remember that the protests stopped when the draft ended not when the war ended.
If you ever want to find out if a man is around 70 or older but you don’t want to ask him directly ask him the following question:
“What is the first thing that comes to mind when I say the word ‘lottery’?”
If they are70 or older they say “ the draft” not “ lotto” or the NBA!
Excellent column today, Bill. I will be 72 in a month, so I fit the demographic of your column. I was very conflicted about the war, for reasons I'll explain. I was freshman at the University of WI, Madison in Sept, 1968 on a 4-year Army ROTC scholarship. My Dad was a career Army officer who served in Okinawa in WWII as a grunt (a "Private E-Nothing", as he later described his rank. Then like many vets, was discharged, got married, and went to college on the GI Bill (UW-Madison). He got his Regular Army commission as a 2LT through ROTC and served in the Korean War and later in Viet Nam during the Tet Offensive in 1968, one of the most "active" times of the war. He retired from the Army after 26 years on active duty, retiring as a COL. He also worked for a few large companies before fully retiring about 10 years later.
Back to my feelings of confliction. War protests were full bore at Madison, with "rallies" all around the campus and 1,000's of students protesting. Many classes were cancelled. I watched from the fringes. 'Uncle Sam" was paying for my education, I was going to have a 4-year active duty commitment after graduating, AND Dad was serving in Vietnam. I could not in good faith protest the war, but didn't think we should be there.
The Army ROTC building where classes was held was in a Quansut-type building away from most of the academic buildings and protestors damaged the windows and spray-painted the building. There were days I had to wear a uniform to ROTC class and later on drill teams, etc. but I was largely left alone, maybe because I walked on a less crowded, alternate (longer) route on days I had an ROTC class and was 6'1", 200 lbs and very fit. I also did not schedule any class immediately following my ROTC class so I could change back to jeans. I was not looking for a conflict. As a freshman eating breakfast in the dorm "dining facility", some students got up from the table I was sitting at and sat elsewhere. A small thing.
I remember going to a favorite beer bar near campus called the KK (still there!) the night of the first draft lottery. My first 4 years after graduation were pre-planned (4-years active duty, 2 Reserve commitment), but I still wanted to be involved in what was going on with the draft. The place was packed. A guy who whose birthday must have been July 7th had a large sandwich-board sign on that said "I'm number one and I'm f'd". Everyone was buying him beer. It was a tumultuous time for most. After graduation, I went to Army Airborne and Ranger School, served my commitment and then worked 35+ years as a HR professional, including owning my own consultant business for the final 15 years. I retired in 2019 and now live in SC.
Thanks again for your perspective and reminder of the date. Apologies for the deep dive.
Thank you for such a fitting example of the reality that, while yes there's personal efforts and investments, a big part of life's story is just random luck of the draw... People play the cards they're dealt. Democracy gives you a chance to win big.
I was 13yo. I wore a POW bracelet until my soldier came home. When I sent it to him in NJ, he wrote me a long letter of gratitude for my hope. There was a lot nobody could explain to my satisfaction except “Communism was bad. Really bad.” So why are all these people hating on the soldiers coming home? I thought that was was idiotic. But that bracelet was doing my part to support SOLDIERS. My Mom grew up during WW II so I wanted to be like her. But she had a lot more company than I did. I still wonder how people came to spit on returning soldiers who were forced to go by their own government and then tossed aside when they got home. It still makes me so, so sad.
I knew a couple young men who were drafted. Through the years, I've known many who served in Nam. One of the lasting tragedies is how they were treated upon return. Many (if not most) changed clothes, wore a hat in when out in public to avoid abuse by we Americans. I have learned of coworkers within the last decade who had served that that time, whom I thanked for their service. Two of them teared up ... noting that they had never been thanked for their service before. I want them ALL to know that I so much appreciate their sacrifice for our country, whether it is draft or volunteer is irrelevant. Thank you ALL - Thank you !
I remember the Vietnam lottery. My brother’s birthday came up as #61. My whole family watched the lottery.
When his number came up, he turned to us and lamented “I’m going to Vietnam”. It was a very sad day for all of us, very upsetting.
Fortunately he was in college. And by the time he graduated, the war was over.
Just fyi, us baby boomers also had it hard because when we graduated, there were never enough jobs for all of us. We were such a big bulge in population no matter our age. Graduation time and after was always clouded by the great difficulty in getting a job. We did not have it easy.
The War impacted me over the years. As a Canadian I had more than a few draft dodger friends. My family was all set to immigrate to USA in 1966 when my Dads company left Montreal. Then came the immigration interview at US consulate. I was 14 and the agent wanted to know if I had STDs. Had to ask Mom in the waiting room. My Mom was Australian by birth. Agent informed us that we would be subject to draft due to some agreement between USA and Australia. So that meant my 17 year old brother would be A1A almost immediately. That ended our moving to America.
I was born in 1950 and remember the fear of my friends going to Vietnam well. My brothers managed to get into the National Guard but still had to go through basic training. But the others I knew ended up in Vietnam. One man I dated was at the MyLai Massacre. That event was burned in his brain because it went against every aspect of his being. His job was to photograph it. We went to a movie one night about a War and he came out shaking. It was several hours before I’d let him drive home. During that time he told me about being in Vietnam and wondering why we were against a people who wanted to be independent, the “trade route” explanation seemed to be a ruse and the soldiers didn’t know who was on their side. His experiences when he came home were horrifying. OMG! But I didn’t know anyone not touched by the war.
So this reminds me of a StarTrek NG episode where a planet wanted to join the Federation until the Enterprise crew found out that their war veterans were banned to the moon so the population wouldn’t have to deal with their dysfunction after the wars. Picard told the planet they had to reintegrate the vets before the Federation would consider accepting them. Roddenberry got it right that time too. Also watch “The Best Years of our Lives” about returning WWII vets.
My draft number, based on my birthday, was #17. It was 1972, and I was a freshman at the University of Georgia. "They" (whoever 'they' was) had proclaimed that the Top 31 selection dates would be drafted.
I had been an athlete in high school, and had walked on as practice fodder at UGA for football. As freshmen, all football players were required to take ROTC (either Army or Air Force), as being included would defer one for four years of college before reporting to the service. I chose Army ROTC.
Midway through my freshman year, I received notification to travel to Atlanta for a physical. I boarded a bus from our Post Office to take the one-hour drive to AAFES center. We were checked, poked and prodded, and peered at for a good 2 hours. One after another, lined up, we all went through the drill.
At the end of everything, whoever was in charged presented a question to us all - "Does anyone have anything that may keep them from being called to service?" A couple hands were raised. "What?" whoever it was, asked. "I have bad knees." "I have a bad shoulder." "I have flat feet." (Never figured why that was so bad - then again, I don't have flat feet.) I had suffered a knee injury during my high school football days, so I raised my hand, too. "Fine", whoever it was said. You'll return in two weeks for further examinations.
Returning two weeks later, I was twisted, pulled, pushed and thoroughly examined by, I presume, an orthopedist. At the end of the exam, he looked at me and proclaimed, "I'm sorry, but you are disqualified." My parents were relieved; my girlfriend overjoyed; I had mixed feelings.
I continued my Army ROTC classes through the end of the quarter. I had enjoyed my time - I had received some accolades through the year, including some 'merits' (as opposed to demerits). But I dropped ROTC after that quarter. I dropped football, too.
I was "gone". I had friends who "'went". A few didn't return. Most did. Looking back, my feelings are still mixed. The Army would have helped me grow. I feel a pang of guilt at being labeled "4-F". It was a sign of cowardice at the time - at least in my hometown.
Every generation has its challenges. None more than others. The greatest; Boomers; Gen-X, Z and millennials, whatever. Nobody gets off life easy. But it's what you make of the rest of it that matters.
Gen Xer here! I was a little confused about how the draft worked from your description and found this article really helpful: (sharing in case anyone else is like me): https://www.sss.gov/history-and-records/vietnam-lotteries/
Also, so many things to ponder with respect to our personal freedoms and chaos. How does the chaos and disruption of COVID, for example, compare to the chaos and disruption of a generation living with the uncertainty and consequences of the draft?
I truly hope we never have another draft, I think that was terrible and I never want it to happen again. The thing about the generational divide here though is that I don't believe boomers have that sympathy for the millennial struggle. We can't afford homes or babies or pay off our student loans and instead of trying to help, they blame it on us. They created the systems that increased tuition and housing costs while we were still literal children, reaped the benefits, left nothing for us, and have no desire to ease our burden. Just doesn't seem fair in any world.
Every time the US Government has enacted any major change in society there has been some kind of cutoff date. It's just the way things work. Them's the breaks. Get over it already.
Jeez, if some of you had your way we wouldn't have Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other recent government programs. We'd still have a military draft.
Somebody has to be last and somebody has to be first. Sorry, not sorry, if tuition debt relief gets your panties in a wad. For a lot of people this would be a very great thing. Keep your grumbling to yourself and be happy, (Okay, pretend to be happy.) for the ones whose life will be changed forever.
I was lucky/fortunate to have been born in 1956, however as another commenter stated, we watched the evening news and gasped about the carnage and horrors of the Vietnam war. The draft was hanging over our heads, and it still scared the #### out of me and many of my friends. Even though the draft had been discontinued, the day after I graduated from high school (1974) the instructions from my Dad were to get to the post office to register, even though I was going to college in September. My number was a tall one, but still. Very unsettling, that the govt. could reinstate the draft if the world went crazy was in the back of our minds.