Today is a momentous anniversary for all males born between 1943 and 1951 and who were not already a member of the US Armed Forces.
Today is the 50th anniversary of the first US Draft Lottery, held on December 1, 1969.
On this date in 1969, single males between the ages of 18 and 26 and their families gathered around their television sets that evening to watch as 366 numbers were drawn from a clear “bowl.” Each number represented a different day of the year from January 1 to December 31 and each number was encapsulated inside a blue plastic container.
Various people took turns drawing, one at a time, a small blue container from the bowl, opening the container, and reading aloud the date on the piece of paper they had drawn. The first number drawn was September 14 and that became known as Draft Number 001. And so it went, for 366 numbers (including February 29th, to cover the coming Leap Year) until all 366 numbers had been drawn and assigned, in ascending numerical order a Draft Lottery Number. The final Draft Lottery Number date drawn was June 8.
It was assumed that those with draft numbers 001 through 110 had a good chance of being drafted. Those higher 256 numbers had a good chance of not being drafted, depending upon the needs of the military.
I was already in the US Navy on this date, and therefore was not affected. I was stationed in Scotland at the time and oblivious of the nerve-wracking television broadcast going on that evening back in the US. I had enlisted in the Navy on August 30, 1965, before I was due to be drafted. I did so, not so much to avoid the draft, but to give myself choices in occupational specialties available in the Navy that were unavailable in the Army.
Just for information, I checked the Draft Lottery Numbers for myself and my family members today to see what their numbers would have been if they were draft eligible on this date.
I would have had a number too high to be drafted. My wife (if women were draft eligible) would have had a number low enough to be drafted. My three sons and my daughter would also have had numbers low enough (under 110) to be drafted. In fact, one son was 053 and one was 057, thus ENSURING they would have been drafted.
Here is a news story on that momentous night, 50 years ago today:
The first problem to arise was that statisticians proved that the “random” drawing was NOT truly random, due to the way the numbers were “dumped” into the bowl. Statisticians proved that if you were born in the second half of the year with a birthday later than July 1, you had a better chance of being drafted than those boys with birthdays in the first half of the year.
The following year, statisticians from the Bureau of Standards were asked to devise a drawing that was truly random. They specified that there be TWO “bowls,” one with numbers 001 through 366 and the second “bowl” with birthdays January 1 through December 31. Then each “bowl” was rotated several times, thus thoroughly mixing both. Then a number from one bowl was drawn and “matched” with a date drawn from the second bowl. This produced a much more random draft lottery. This second video is a short one explaining that process: