A few day after Veterans Day, I am still awash in the recognition vets received on their special day. In the interest of full disclosure, I spent two years on active duty and four years in the Army Signal Corps Reserve during the Korean War era, which probably doesn’t make me an impartial observer.
In actuality, this story began about ten years ago. I was visiting relatives in Florida and was dispatched to the supermarket to procure a few last-minute items. As I was walking into the store a distinguished looking old timer was heading toward a car with Purple Heart courtesy license plates. (The Purple Heart is presented to United State military personnel who have been wounded in combat.) I walked over to him and put out my hand and said, “thank you for your service and sacrifice, I sincerely appreciate both.” Whereupon he started to cry and said, “I’ve had these plates for ten years and you’re the first person who has every said a word!” In the discussion that followed, he told me he was a Marine who received a serious leg wound while fighting on Iwo Jima. Sixty years later he still walked with a serious limp. He also received the Bronze Star for valor in action. My new-found friend dispatched me with a big hug and an emotional, “thank you.” This chance encounter made my vacation and literally changed my life.
Over the ensuing years, I’ve frequently thought about this WWII hero. I wish I had taken his name and address so I could have remained in contact. It has also reminded me of the vast number of vets who gave their life or years of their life in the service of our country. You may be totally anti-war but in my opinion, even the most avid pacifists owe homage to those who died or were willing to serve to give them the right to protest.
Looking for vets I would simply say, “thank you for your service” and shake their hand if the occasion presented itself. I am especially on the lookout for Viet Nam vets as they were the object of disdain when they came home. People would spit at them and called all types of names. Possible a few acts of kindness now can help erase the pain of their homecoming. When encountering a WWII vet, there aren’t many left, I try and engage them in conversation. If I’m in the check-out line at a convenience store and there is a vet behind me with a container of coffee, I frequently tell the person at the cash register, “take out for the vet’s coffee.”
Don’t be surprised if thanking a vet, or other random acts of kindness, makes you feel better. Knowing you have brought a smile and a good feeling to another human being is a very special thing.