Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the Army Reserve while in college worried that he might be drafted for the Vietnam War and, if so, determined to go as an officer, college classmates said.
During Alito's years at Princeton, from 1968 to 1972, the war was escalating and thousands of Americans were being drafted. The order in which men of draft age were being summoned was set by lottery drawings.
In the first such drawing in December 1969, Alito, then a sophomore, received a relatively low number: 32, according to U.S. Selective Service records. Protected from being drafted immediately by a student deferment, Alito joined the Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
David Grais, a former roommate and debate teammate, recalls Alito's decision as a pragmatic response to the possibility of eventually having to go to war. Mark Dwyer, another former teammate, remembers Alito saying at the time that if he was going into the Army, he might as well serve as an officer.
"We all talked about the draft and appropriate approaches to make life better," Dwyer said.
Although opinions about the conflict in Southeast Asia bitterly divided the nation at the time and stirred antiwar protests on many college campuses, Grais and Dwyer described Alito as having no particularly strong views about the war.
"The war was a subject of some conversation on campus, but I think we tended to talk more about what was going on in our classes," Grais said. "We didn't talk much about politics."
Dwyer did not recall Alito ever defending the Vietnam War or even wearing his ROTC uniform except during the couple of hours per week that he had to attend training.
Alito was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army after graduating from Princeton in 1972, according to a brief account of his military service that he provided the Senate in 1990 when nominated to be an appellate judge. He delayed starting military duty until after graduating from Yale Law School in spring 1975.
He then served on active duty from September to December, receiving training as a signal officer at Fort Gordon, Ga. He went on inactive reserve status and was promoted to captain before being honorably discharged in 1980.
-- The Washington Post