Friday, February 5, 2016

My Lottery Number from Hell

Beginning around 1970 and continuing till, hmm, probably last night, lounge lizards and barflies of a certain age would try to pick up "chicks" or "leg" or "tail" by claiming, depending on their audience, that they had been at Woodstock or in Nam or both. These same guys had probably used this irresistible piece of bait when they were younger: "This may be the last time you see me alive."

So I need to confess, before continuing with my "growing-up-drafty" memoir, that I was at neither of those historic sites. Allowing you to infer that I saw combat duty not only makes me a lounge lizard, but is disrespectful to all those who actually served in Vietnam, whether they were drafted or volunteered.

Here's how it went down, as they say on the streets: 

The old selective-service system changed on December 1, 1969, to a lottery system (well explained here, and you can watch the procedure here). Briefly, the first 122 birth dates drawn from a glass vat or cauldron or crucible were certain to receive a draft notice; those between 122 and 244 (roughly) were in a murky twilight zone, ever listening for the Selective Service's hushed approaching footsteps; starting at 245, a fellow could relax and plan a life for himself.

As I have previously made clear, I knew my number would be low, that I'd be drafted, sent to Vietnam and killed.

Well, in the words of Mark Twain, "I'm an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."

My number was low -- 63 (none of us will forget our numbers) -- so I knew I was toast. I took the standardized military entrance exam and scored well enough to be a part of that scholarly brotherhood known as the Air Force (take that, Mrs. Burgerstram!). So I was never sent to Vietnam, even though many of my friends in the Air Force were. Consequently, I was never killed in Vietnam.
Airman Basic Roy Starling during "boot camp," Lackland AFB, 1970: Proof that you can be miserable as hell and still smile.

Choosing the Air Force required me to serve four years, while the draft required two, with one of those almost certainly being in Nam. Perhaps I'll reflect on how I felt and still feel about that in a later post, but that's enough for now.

Sooo . . . while my adolescent brothers and I stood, cloaked in dread, toe to heel in an endless line for a shot at premature death or permanent disfigurement; while that line transformed itself into a labyrinth too complex for our still undeveloped brains to solve; while our values, which were little more than unprocessed bits of received knowledge handed down from dubious sources, steered us toward no-win moral and ethical dilemmas; while all of this burdened our teen years so heavily we could feel ourselves sucked into quicksand composed primarily of still undetectable bullshit, what were our girlfriends and sisters thinking?

I have no idea, but in my next post, I'll ponder this issue and discuss Tim O'Brien's take on war and the sexes in his masterpiece, The Things They Carried, a Nam-era literary treasure that both the French and pretentious Americans would label realisme magique  and a cri de coeur.


  1. Roy, Dad said to let you know how much he enjoyed and appreciated the StarkNotes links you sent!

  2. That makes me feel great. Hello to him for me. I really wish we lived closer.