There’s this ancient congressman calling for a return to the military draft. I about fell off my NASCAR bean bag. His point: “We’d have a lot fewer problems if people served. Why, I was drafted. And look at me now.” I’d rather not.

There’s this ancient congressman calling for a return to the military draft. I about fell off my NASCAR bean bag.

His point: “We’d have a lot fewer problems if people served. Why, I was drafted. And look at me now.”

I’d rather not.

Go there at great peril. I know. I served in one of the last groups drafted into the Army, in 1972.

A third of us could not read beyond third grade. Many had been told by judges, “Enlist now or go to prison.”

We had psychopaths in my platoon, soon to be armed. When you report for basic training, they search you for weapons. Then they hand you an assault rifle and a bayonet. The juvenile delinquents from Philadelphia were ecstatic.

Altus somehow graduated from high school and got drafted. He landed in the bunk above my head. He went to the dentist and put his helmet on the helmet rack. He came out, grabbed a helmet and walked back to our barracks.

“Jeem, I cain’t believe it,” he said. “Everyone’s saluting me.”

I looked at his helmet. It was a lieutenant colonel’s.

Fast forward to today’s Army. Imagine Altus coordinating battle plans with the Pentagon. It gives me shivers.

The boy cried himself asleep for his mother and sister. He invited them to visit. They walked right through the barracks during our shower time.

We were on the rifle range learning the breath-sucking pleasures of firing full auto. The guy in the watch tower said something over the PA. Altus turned around, still firing.

In grenade training, they told us to count to three and toss it like a baseball. Altus did, a pop-up that landed 5 feet behind him. The only thing that saved us? He forgot to pull the pin.

Three MPs dragged him off. He looked over his shoulder. “Jeem, do something.” I did. I waved goodbye.

I’d lost track of him, but then I heard he went to MACV (Vietnam).

Twenty years later, I got the courage to go to the Vietnam Wall in Washington. I looked for his name, no Altus, relief.

We bought ice-cream bars from a Vietnamese vendor. A Huey chopper flapped overhead, surging my memories. I thought, “There is a God, and he watches over his flock, when they don’t pull the pin.”