What seems like forever ago, I was sitting in the Student Union at Southern University playing Spades and Bid Whist. Folks were eating chili-slathered hot sausage poboys and fries.
Some of the deep-thinking poli sci and philosophy students were debating the great issues of the day. Others were off in their own worlds bobbing their heads to the Isley Brothers, Earth, Wind and Fire and James Brown roaring out of the jukebox.
There were the ever-present guys in there fresh from Vietnam at various tables or standing in the walkway area chatting away. They were older and had a different kind of rap. Some of them had seen things in combat that gave us the willies.
Most of them had been drafted into an unpopular war where a lot of “brothers” went to the front line. Many didn’t make it back, and some others returned in varying phases of “their right mind.”
But, on this particular day, there had been reports that President Richard Nixon would end the draft lottery, basically a system of drafting young men, 18 and older, into the military based on their date of birth.
The birthday lottery dates, and where your birthday fell in the lottery, were published in the local newspaper. This was a lottery few, if any, wanted to win.
I remember on that on a nondescript day in late January 1973 sitting slumped in a seat watching a card game and trying to decide whether I would attend my English class when a couple guys came into the Union saying, “He did it. The draft is over.”
Strangely, there were no shouts of joy as would have expected. There were a lot of smiles though. And, there were looks of “What happens next?”
I, like most of my friends and millions of other young men, never wanted to be drafted and would never voluntarily enter the military. Volunteering to be in the meat grinder that was Vietnam didn’t seem like a winning idea.
Some of my high school classmates had been drafted and a few volunteered for the military. The military did offer them a way out of the cycle of poverty that persisted in our neighborhoods. It was that other possible outcome that drove folks like me away.
Since the draft ended, America has been defended by folk who volunteer. I am in awe of whatever thought process and life situation that nudges someone to readily give their life for strangers.
I am not a flag-waving “America, love-it-or-leave-it” person. I once sat down during the playing of the National Anthem when I was in high school to protest the mistreatment of African Americans in the United States. And, I would do it again if it could make a difference.
But, on this Memorial Day weekend, I have nothing but admiration and love for the men and women who summon up the bravery to do what I won’t.
On Memorial Day, even if you don’t plan to visit a cemetery or raise a flag to honor U.S. soldiers, you ought to take a minute to pay tribute in some way to the men and women who have done what you won’t, take their last breath in the service of the United States.
Ed Pratt is a former Advocate editor. He is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.