The United States used drafts during the Civil War, World War I and World War II, as well as from 1947 until the final draft call on Dec. 7, 1972. Since then, the military has filled its ranks with volunteers.
DAV’s membership includes many individuals who served in Vietnam, Korea and elsewhere after being compelled to serve by a draft notice. Past National Commander Dennis Joyner was one of more than 1.8 million draftees to serve during the Vietnam War.
On Dec. 10, 1968, Joyner reported for duty in the Army. At 20 years old, he had lost his student deferment when he dropped out of college and took a job. Joyner said he didn’t want to go to Vietnam, but he also knew that he was registered with the Selective Service System.
“A letter was sent to the house, an Uncle Sam letter, saying ‘Dear Dennis, we want you,’” he said. “The only thought I had was ‘OK, I’ve been called; I go. There was no other thought whatsoever. My father was in the military and World War II, so I went.”
While on patrol in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, he stepped on a land mine. The explosion left him a triple amputee.
“I was only there 32 days when I got hit,” Joyner said.
The first draft lottery of the Vietnam War was held on Dec. 1, 1969, at which time Joyner was still in an Army hospital recovering.
“I actually watched the first draft lottery at the military hospital at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey,” he said.
The lotteries near the end of the Vietnam War were held via a random drawing of a container with 366 capsules—one for each possible birthdate in a year. Each date drawn was given a sequential number, and the closer to No. 1 your birthday was, the more likely it was that you would be drafted.
The 17,671 draftees killed in the Vietnam War comprised a little over 30% of all of the 58,220 military members killed in that conflict.
Although there is not an active draft, registration with the Selective Service System, an independent federal agency, remains federal law. In 2022, approximately 15.5 million men ages 18–25 registered, according to an agency spokesperson.
“We serve as a vital tier of support for Department of Defense’s personnel needs in times of national crisis,” said Joel C. Spangenberg, acting director of the Selective Service System.
The all-volunteer military fulfills the country’s missions today, yet selective service registrations make the agency ready to hold a draft if the president and Congress deem one necessary.
“Our ability to defend our nation with an all-volunteer force is a luxury that not all generations have known. And the burden of service has at times been tremendous for those called to multiple combat tours. But regardless of whether someone volunteered or was drafted, we must honor all who answered the call of duty,” said National Commander Joe Parsetich. “Their sacrifices were as important—and their blood was as red—as anyone’s.”