Chapter 61: 88

Two people won over $574 million in the Powerball Lottery this morning. I wasn’t one of them; neither were any of my Italian 100A students.

I told my students about another lottery, one that I was intimately involved in back in 1970: The Vietnam War Lottery.

At this time of the school year, I always have to find motivational tools to get my students through the last two weeks of the semester as well as the final exam, which is always scheduled on Saturday at 8am. Naturally, one of my students asks me how I, Steve Sacco, stayed motivated in school. Of course, I’m laughing my ass off.

“Well, ragazzi, here’s the answer to your question.”

“Back in 1970 when I was a freshman, most students were highly motivated to stay in school. For love of 17th century Italian poetry? Hell, no!

If you flunked out of school, the university immediately notified your draft board. Student deferments were revoked and you got classified 1-A. generally, that meant that you got drafted within a month of expulsion.

At that point, a representative from selective service pointed you toward the army, navy, airforce or marines. If you got drafted, you most likely went to Vietnam. If you went to Vietnam, you had a good chance of dying–like many in our neighborhood, or returning without a limb–like our friend Nick the Greek.

Student deferments ended upon graduation and I graduated in four years. Fortunately, the war was over and my lottery number–88–expired.”

“What was the lottery number thing about?” one of my students asks.

“Each kid was provided a lottery number attached to their birthday. In 1970, March 23 drew 88. That’s 88 out of a total of 365.

The Defense Department drafted us starting with the lottery number 1 until their supply of young men was provided. In 1970, young men with lottery numbers up to 150 got drafted, most going to Vietnam.”

“So, you can do the math,” I told my students. “If I flunked out of college, I was going to get drafted almost immediately. So, I studied hard!


About growingupcalabrese

Professor of French and Italian at San Diego State University
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