I started college in the fall of 1967. There was a war going on in Vietnam. A military draft was in place, but I had a “student deferment” which was a ticket out of Vietnam. I seldom thought about the Vietnam War while in college. I was too busy studying and checking out the girls. No one in my family ever went to Vietnam.
The Vietnam War was far from my mind until the night of December 1, 1969. Uncle Sam needed more soldiers for Vietnam and student deferments were abolished. On that fateful December evening the Federal Government held a national draft lottery. The days of the year were represented by the numbers from 1 to 366 written on slips of paper. The slips were placed in separate plastic capsules that were mixed in a shoebox and then dumped into a deep glass jar. Capsules were drawn from the jar one at a time.
Every male college student in the country was sitting in front of the television on that December night, hoping their number wouldn’t be called early. In my small college in southern Iowa we had about 300 fellows sitting around a common television in the student center. The first day number drawn was 257 (September 14), so all young men with that birthday were assigned lottery number 1. None of us had that birthday. The second capsule was drawn. No one had that birthday either. When the third capsule was opened and the birth date was announced, one fellow stood up, threw his chair across the room and walked out. Fortunately for me, my birthday was drawn 216th out of 366 numbers to be called.
I “lucked out”, but the men with the first 195 birthdates were drafted with a good possibility of service in Vietnam. I wasn’t much educated about the Vietnam War and I wasn’t a draft dodger. If my birthday had come up before number 195 I would be a Veteran today. I made the cut by 21 lousy numbers.
That 21 number gap made it possible for me to live my entire life in this great country without spending a single minute in the armed forces. Others went in my place to serve and many of them paid the ultimate price. For those who have served, you have the most honorable and sacred title that any American can hold…that of Veteran. No matter what I achieve in my life I will never have that title. You earned it; I didn’t even come close.
Those of you who are Veterans, I want you to know that there is seldom a day that I don’t realize that my life of peace and prosperity was made possible by you who have served. Whether you fought in France, served in frozen Korean battlegrounds, struggled in the steaming Jungles of Vietnam, kept the peace in Bosnia, fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, or served with readiness during times of peace; you have made it possible for the rest of us to live the American dream. Veterans, there are absolutely no words that can describe my gratitude.
God bless you, Veterans.