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Almanac: The 1969 draft lottery

Almanac: The 1969 draft lottery
Almanac: The 1969 draft lottery 01:55

On December 1st, 1969, America's first military draft lottery since World War II was held.

With the war in Vietnam as a backdrop – and the futures of some 850,000 young men (born between 1944-1950) on the line – the lottery featured a bin containing 366 capsules, one for each possible birthday.

The order in which their birthdays were drawn from the bin would determine the order in which those young men would be drafted. First chosen = First to serve.

Congressman Alexander Pernie, of New York, drew the first number: "September 14th … 001."

Capsule by capsule, date by date, the board filled up, finally concluding with June 8th as number 366.

Statisticans soon cried foul, arguing that birthdates near the end of the year had inadvertently been clustered toward the top of the bin, making them more likely to be drawn first.

Fair or not, as events played out, only men with birthdays numbered one through 195 were ultimately called to duty. Men with the remaining 171 birthdays were home free.

America ended the military draft in 1973, and has relied on voluntary enlistment ever since. But for many of the thousands who watched the drawing with bated breath, memories of that draft lottery telecast remain as vivid as ever.

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Story produced by Robert Marston. 

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