So, you think you get nervous while you're watching the Cavs in the NBA Finals or the Indians in the World Series?

Ha. I'll tell you what nervous TV-watching is.

Let's beam back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the United States was mired in a seemingly endless war that we never should have entered in the first place.

Vietnam was an ever-growing disaster. I didn't know a single person who had even the slightest desire to go fight the Viet Cong.

Little wonder: Day after day after day, TV newscasts showed footage of U.S. soldiers slogging around in horrid conditions, trying to fight an almost-invisible enemy and making no progress whatsoever. Hardly a day passed when we weren't shown piles of body bags. And for what?

I say this not to belittle those who did go. To the contrary: I have the utmost respect for them and their sacrifices. I'm merely trying to communicate just how horrible the prospect of going to Vietnam seemed to almost everyone.

Obviously, no war is a good time. But at least during my dad's war, launched by the unprovoked bombing of Pearl Harbor, the good guys and the bad guys were easily identifiable and the mission was clear.

The red-hot public anger that exploded 50 years ago this year carried over into the early '70s with equal intensity. Criticism of the annual military draft lottery continued to grow, partly because college kids like me were exempt.

If you were a full-time student making sufficient academic progress, you got a deferment. If you were not, your fate depended on your birthday.

The lottery involved Plexiglas drums containing 366 little plastic capsules that held different dates written on small slips of paper.

By the summer of 1971, the media were packed with reports that college deferments were about to end. They did, in late September.

So when my drawing was held on Aug. 5, 1971, for everyone born in 1952, it was indeed “must-see TV.”

What it all boiled down to was pure luck.

Whether your luck was good or bad had the potential to dictate whether you lived a long life or died early. TV doesn't get much more dramatic than that.

The brain cells that held the details from 47 years ago have long since vanished, so I not only had to look up the date of the drawing but also my own lottery number. I knew it was quite high, but I couldn't remember 283.

At the time, the military was taking people through the first 95 birth dates.

Although those numbers have faded, the drama never will.

The year after my draft, when the college deferment had been completely erased, I sat in front of a TV in the lounge of my dormitory and waited to learn the fate of some of my closest friends.

A lot of folks were there — 25? 30? — and we collectively held our breath. Someone sitting very close to me, a football player, was chosen early.

He made no attempt to disguise his agony. He drank a bottle of booze that night, soon dropped out of school and joined the reserves.

That just as easily could have been me.

I sometimes think about how different my life could have been if my TV show had had a different plot. I also think about the fact that, as I watched it, the people at the highest level of my government had known for years that the war could not be won, yet they continued to drag American kids into it. And that still turns my stomach.

I think back to some noncollege buddies who dutifully trotted off to Vietnam and lived through it, except they really didn't.

My pal Craig Sentar, a good-natured, regular guy, came back a raving lunatic, a midnight intruder who was justifiably killed by a terrified homeowner. Anyone who knew Craig knew he died from that war.

I know people who to this very day cannot hear an approaching helicopter without breaking into a sweat.

And, of course, I knew people who didn't come back at all.

Pure luck.

Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or bdyer@thebeaconjournal.com. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31