The draft


First draft – December 1, 1969

Anyone old enough to remember the war in Vietnam will also remember the draft. Signed into law by President Nixon in 1969, a draft lottery system was established (the first since 1942) to determine who would serve and who would not (most of those who served in Vietnam were volunteers; about a quarter were draftees).

The first lottery was held on December 1, 1969, and all males between the ages of 19 and 26 were eligible. The order of draft (who got drafted first) was determined by birthday. On the day of the lottery, balls with every possible birth date – including February 29 – were placed in a large jug and pulled out one by one. The first birthday to be called was September 14.

The top third of those called would almost certainly be told to report to induction centers for military service. The last third would probably not be called. The middle third, however, had to wait to find out if the military had all the troops it needed or not. If not, their chances went up.

A new lottery was held each subsequent year, but unlike the one in 1969, only 19 year olds were affected.

“On January 27, 1973—the day the Vietnam cease-fire was announced—the administration stopped the draft, six months before the draft law was to expire on July 1, 1973. The last draft lottery was on December 7, 1972.” (

Do you want to know what number you would have gotten if you had been born between January 1, 1944 and December 31, 1950? The official listing of draft numbers can be found at, along with some newspaper articles announcing the results.

For those who were eligible for the draft, especially for those who had not intended to serve in the military, the results of the draft lottery would inevitably alter every one of their lives in one way or another.

The system was not without controversy, and improvements were implemented over the years to make selection as random as possible. Current procedures can be found at the Selective Service website. Although the military has been an all volunteer force for many years, registration requirements still exist.


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