What exempted Bob Dylan from military service?

I am two years older than Dylan. I was drafted in 1961 when I was 22. Dylan was 20. The draft was very active at that time. Everybody I knew of my age was called to the draft. The Berlin wall went up, and JFK put out the call for more draftees. There was no way Dylan could have avoided being called for the draft. But he obviously did avoid it, and did not serve as I and thousands and thousands of others did – 31/2 years worth! The big question is how did Dylan manage to dodge the draft when the rest of us couldn’t? I’m guessing he was 4-F, but what could have been the issue that classified him as 4-F?

I prefer National Lampoon’s take on Dylan… “Poet of my generation? Nahh, I just pick random words that rhyme…”

I 'm assuming a very large class of adult males was exempt. Or was farm work an essential job?

Dylan turned 18 in 1959. You had to sign up for the draft. They then pulled draft numbers. If your number was high among the numbers pulled, you didn’t get drafted.

Your question was answered in the second post of this thread. He may have registered, but he wasn’t drafted.

The first draft lottery in the Vietnam era began in Dec. 1969. The previous one was held in 1942.

There was no “pulled draft numbers” during the years Dylan was eligible.

Local draft boards were responsible for picking people. They could be capricious in some places but not exactly a “draft number” system.

Here’s the text.

The following Exemption Bill was passed by Congress, and signed by the President just before the adjournment:

A Bill to be entitled ‘“An set to exempt certain persons from enrollment for service in the armies of the Confederate States.”’

Section 1. The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That all persons who shall be held to be unit for military service under the rules to be prescribed by the Secretary of War; all in the service of employ of the Confederate States; all judicial and executive officers of Confederate or State Governments, the members of both houses of Congress and of the Legislatures of the several States and their respective officers; all clerks of the officers of the State and Confederate Governments allowed by law; all engaged in carrying the mails; all ferrymen on post routes; all pilots and persons engaged in the marine service, and in actual service on river and railroad routes of transportation; telegraphic operatives and ministers of religion, in the regular discharge of their ministerial duties; all engaged in working iron mines, furnaces, and foundries, all journeymen printer, actually employed in printing newspapers; all Presidents and Professor of colleges and academies, and all teachers having as many as twenty scholars; superintendents of the public hospitals, lunatic asylums, and the regular nurses and attendants therein, and the teachers employed in the institutions for the deaf, and dump and blind. In such apothecary store now established one apothecary in good standing, who is a practical druggist, superintendents and operatives and other factories, who may be exempted by the Secretary of War, shall be, and are hereby, exempted from military service in the armies of the Confederate States.

Who could be left after such a list? Mostly, the poor white farmers who comprised the bulk of the population. If you go through the exemptions closely you start to realize that the number of newspaper printers and practical druggists had to be very small in a mostly agricultural - and heavily illiterate - society.

And because of mentioned variations in meeting numbers under the pre-lottery system, you could have some communities where it seemed like “everyone you know who could be” got called, others where that did not happen.

The USA never had “Universal Service” conscription. At any given time it always was a draft to fill the manpower needs that exceeded regular enlistees.

BTW the 2025 National Defense Authorization Act pending before Congress would switch to automatic registration just from being a male citizen/national/permanent-resident 18-26.

Absolutely false! They did not initiate the lottery drawing of who should be drafted until the Viet Nam war started. In 1959 through 1965 it was compulsory for every able bodied man to serve. There was no picking numbers out of the hat. Every one had to serve. There were exemptions of course, such as student deferment. According to Google, Dylan claimed student deferment, but he only spent one year at the University of Minnesota in 1959 and then dropped out of college and came to Greenwich Village in New York. Why he wasn’t drafted is a puzzle to me since he was no longer a student. I, and many, many like me, was drafted within a month of my graduation from college. Repeat, there was no lottery picking at this time, so to say Dylan was high number was not the reason he did not serve.

That does not match known history or the lived experience of many board members.

While every able bodied man was eligible and should have registered, not all were automatically conscripted as you claim. It’s an odd claim anyway. Is there any evidence universal conscription was used? There were ~15000 men per month called up during that period, which would not have been every single person available.

And while there may not have been a lottery involved, there was certainly prioritization - certain people by virtue of their status or situation were more or less likely to be conscripted.

As I recall, JFK increased the number of draftees after the Berlin Wall went up in 1961. That was the year I was drafted as were so many like me. I was 22 years old with no student deferment because I had just graduated from college. Dylan was 20 in 1961 and was also not in college. My simple question is: why did I have to serve and he did not? Nobody seems to know the answer to this. Repeat: this was well before the lottery system.

Not everybody had to be inducted, and the local boards had leeway on who did and who did not to meet the numbers. Every man did have a “service obligation” — but if the numbers were met for the year, they were met and that was that.

If to meet the numbers the Boards hauled in a few more boys from Harlem and El Barrio or working class parts of Queens and a lot fewer from the Village or the UES or the better neighborhoods of Queens… well it’s called the Selective Service, not the Fairness Service.

Why? The best answer is that 118, 586 men were drafted. There were 2,513,427 births in 1941. Half that number would be men. Some would not be medically eligible. So you would have had approximately a 1 in 9 chance of being drafted. And therefore an 8 in 9 chance of not being drafted.

Dylan did not get drafted. Bias!

This. The US has never practiced universal conscription, even during the World Wars.

You’re even contradicting yourself in your next post:

How could JFK “increase” the number of draftees if it was already compulsory for every able-bodied man to serve?

There’s a list of the number of men drafted each year at https://www.sss.gov/history-and-records/induction-statistics/ .

I didn’t realize that the pulling of the draft numbers each year didn’t start until 1969. In any case, not every man got drafted. Exapno_Mapcase calculates that approximately one man in nine joined or was drafted into the military. It may be true, froggy1939, that the men you knew were serving in the military, but it wasn’t true of every man in the U.S. of your age.

There were only seven draft lotteries in the Vietnam era, drawn in 1969 - 1975, for birth years between 1944 and 1956. But the draft ended in 1972, so only the first 3 drawings actually resulted in people being drafted. I was “fortunate” enough to be part of the last lottery drawn in 1975 and had a pretty low number, but wasn’t too concerned since the war was over, the draft had ended 3 years earlier, and there were no indications that it would be resumed.

You can see the lottery results here.

Mine was 1970, and I got an 11. Luckily I had a student deferment that lasted until Nixon stopped the draft.
Perhaps the confusion is with the requirement that all young men register and get draft cards. Many of the protests weren’t directly about getting drafted but objecting to being in the system.
IIRC, even during the lotteries if you drew a number higher than about 120 you were considered safe.

At some time between 1961 and 1963, JFK exempted all fathers from the draft. I registered in 1955 and got a student exemption until 1962 at which point I got a job teaching math that resulted in an employment exemption.

Things were tighter during the war. My uncle enlisted in 1942. His draft board thus lost a potential draftee. They retaliated by drafting his older brother. Who was blind in one eye. But he was a skilled mechanic and he spent the war repairing tanks. My father turned 36 in early 1942. Although you were eligible until 38, they were not drafting people that old at first and two years later he passed 38.

There was never compulsory military service for everyone. Never.

September of 1963, I believe.

That was my question: If service was compulsory, why have a draft? Because there would always be a pool of men serving, with more being inducted every day.

Everyone was required to register for the draft. The military then determined how many draftees would be neede on an annual basis. Each local draft board then drafted the appropriate number. Not all eligible men were drafted.