By February 2, 1972, I was into the routine of being a 2nd-semester freshman at the Universities of North Carolina. That particular Wednesday was no different than any other day. I got up, showered, dressed and headed off to classes, which started at eight that morning. It was cold and rainy, but there was nothing else to indicate this day would be any different than any other day.
That afternoon when I got back to Graham Dorm the first thing I noticed was everyone standing around in the halls talking. As soon as I walked in a couple of my friends came over and asked me, “Have they drawn your number yet?” I remember replying, “Number, what number?” When I was at UNC we did not have television sets in our rooms, and I seldom listen to the radio, except for music, so I had very little information and no idea what was going on in the world. Lonnie, my next door neighbor, laugh and replied, “Your draft number you big DA. They are drawing the draft numbers now.”
The Vietnam War was in full swing and one of the rites of passage every male had to do when they turned 18 years old was to register with the Selective Service Board and be available to be drafted into military service if needed. In 1969 the method of selection was changed to a lottery drawing and the first was held on December 1, 1969.
In a large glass container 365 (366 in a leap year) blue capsules, each containing a birth date, were mixed up and randomly drawn by hand and assigned an “order-of-call” number. The first date drawn was assigned the number one and so on until all 365 number and dates were matched.
The lottery drawing held on February 2, 1972, was for all men born in the year 1953 and would be used to determine the order they would be called to report to a military induction center during the year of 1973. The first date drawn that year was March 6, and it was assigned the number one. The second date was March 7, and the third date was August 3.
The entire lottery was covered by radio, film, and had TV coverage. As each capsule was pulled and opened, the dates were posted in order. It was a long slow process closely monitored by the media and political officials to insure it was totally random.
The lower your number, the more likely you were to be drafted. The call-up during the previous lottery years had reached between 95 and 195. If you had a low number, you would soon be wading in rice paddies in Vietnam.
Once I heard the lottery was taking place panic set in and all I could see was my big butt standing waste deep in a rice paddy being shot at. There was never thought about not going and running to Canada as some did, I knew if my number were small I would serve. As I calmed down, I remembered my plan. By 1972 there were no deferments for college students, so if I had a low number, I would withdraw from school and enlist in either the Navy or the Air Force. I was determined I was not going to trudge around the jungle.
Lonnie said they were posting the numbers, as they were called out over the radio, on a big board that was set up in the Student Union building. I tried to walk away and remain cool and calm, but I found myself running as fast as I could to the Student Union. All I could think about was the worst possible scenarios.
Once I got to the Student Union, I saw they had one wall set up as a matrix with the months across the top and the days of the month down the side. In each corresponding block, they had written in the draft number for that date. By the time I got there the lottery was over and all the blocks were filled in.
I was so nervous at. First, I could not find my birth date and its corresponding square. Finally, I located it and shouted with joy; April 24th had drawn the number 362. By my calculations before the time, the government called my number the ICBMs would have landed, and all of us would be dancing on streets of gold in Heaven.
For a lot of us, and luckily all of my friends, that night turned into a party. We were up all night drinking and celebrating. For others it was not a night to party. Over the next several weeks we learned that several of our dorm mates had withdrawn from school and enlisted.
According to the History and Records of the Selective Service System the last lottery drawing was held on March 12, 1975. The last draft call was on December 7, 1972 thus none of the numbers drawn on February 2, 1972 were actually called up.