I was at a loss for something appropriate to write for this special day. I know many sad stories that will go to the grave with me. Don’t misread that line. I am not a hero, but many heroes came to me to talk. I mainly listened. I am an excellent listener. Hopefully, I helped some of them by listening and offering a few lame words of encouragement.
I am offering you this previously published story to avoid reaching deeper. It is a story that is painful enough for me. I hope, by reading these few lines, you will appreciate our brave servicemen and women a little more. I wish I could do more than saying thanks and shaking hands, but that seems to be the best that I can manage for now.
I am currently working very near the diner that was the stage for this drama. So I feel it is appropriate to republish this story. Don’t thank me after reading this story: thank a vet and tell him you appreciate everything he and his brothers have done for you
Whatever It Takes: Once Again
There have been some comments lately, concerning the returning vets and how to welcome them. Old Skook has been trying to make this into an art form for several years; give me a few minutes and I’ll share my techniques and I will tell you of the day a few years ago, when I was called upon to be a better man than I am.
This activity requires stealth and nerves of steel. When you are in a fine dining establishment like Denny’s or Elmers, use your scouting skills and spot the ME vets sitting together or singly. Keep them under observation and time your meal so that you finish ahead of them, then estimate the cost of their meal and walk by their table and say, “this one’s on me soldier” and drop a ten or a twenty on their table and walk away before they can protest. That’s a great devious trick for Patriots, it always makes me chuckle when I start my car to leave.
Once I saw the chance to be a real hero and I played it to the max. Every few years, I’ll walk around the streets of Oceanside and recall those nights forty years ago when I walked those same streets with nothing to do. Except on this particular night, I saw a young Lance corporal in Dress Blues with a bride still in her wedding gown, looking to be about seven months along. They were aimlessly looking in store windows and I saw my chance for yet another dastardly deed.
I palmed a hundred and walked up to that young Marine and shook his hand and congratulated him on committing matrimony. I held on to his right hand (they say I have a grip like a gorilla, so that part was easy) I grabbed his shoulder with my left hand and told him to take his bride out on the town and spend all the money and let tomorrow take care of itself. I turned my hand so that it was on top and the C note wouldn’t fall on the side walk and left them at a brisk (at least for me) run.
He was outraged and said he couldn’t accept the money, but I was laughing like a schizophrenic and double timing my way out of there. I am 65 years old and know that I can’t outrun a young Marine, but when they are dragging a pregnant woman, I can outrun them all.
Now on a more serious note, I was driving on I 70 and I stopped at a truck stop in Western Colorado for a meal and spied a young soldier that looked like he had been dealt a few bad hands. I decided to buy him a meal and dropped a twenty on his table and said, “Thanks soldier”. I rushed to the cash register and a bunch of seniors crowded in front of me and some of them looked mean and bitter, so I decided to wait my turn to pay.
The young soldier walked up to me and asked, “Sir, are you former military?” I told him, I once wore the uniform and that I wasn’t an officer, so he didn’t need to call me Sir.
He asked if I would have a cup of coffee with him; he needed someone to talk with.
You can’t refuse a request like that, I sat down at his booth and looked him directly in the eye and said, “What’s wrong son?”
He told me of his best friend in that war in the Middle East. They were planning to go back to California and live near each other the rest of their lives, but one day while he was on the perimeter and his friend was sleeping, a single mortar round landed directly on the hootch they shared and his best friend was killed instantly. He saw it happen in slow motion and clear detail.
His voice began to quake and he was barely keeping the tears back. Our neighbors at the tables around us were interrupting their meals to eavesdrop; however, the Lord gave me a cold stern stare and after I looked at the nosy people, they found a renewed interest in their pancakes and eggs.
He went on to tell me that he had a wife and a baby son that he had never seen waiting for him in California and he didn’t know if he could face them after the loss of his friend, he was actually dreading the rest of the drive back to California. I listened to the tale unwind and finally heard my cue, “What do you think I should do?”
I reached deep down inside and hoped I could say something that was worthwhile. “You think your friend is gone, he’s not gone, he’s here with us right now; as a matter of fact, he’s a little disappointed in you for being reluctant to drive home and see your bride and baby. He’s never going to have a son, so he’s planning on living his life through you. He will be beside you for 50 or 60 years, every mistake you make will be a disappointment for him. He expects you to be a man, the best man that you can be, because he can only live through you. He wants to watch you play ball with your son, take him fishing, help him with homework, he wants you to be the dad he will never have a chance to be. If you hide like a whipped dog and feel sorry for yourself, he will be ashamed of you. The best thing you can do is to drive on to California and be the best husband and father that you can possibly be, because you will never be alone, not even when you check out of this big poker game they call life.”
Well, that did it. he lost it and it was all I could do to keep from crying, but I figured it was my job to maintain discipline. I walked with him to his car, we shook hands and he thanked me several times and told me he felt much better.
He drove West and I drove East, about twenty minutes later, I pulled over and broke down.