He was on the bench, just inside the grocery store. Sitting there in slacks and dress shoes, wearing a freshly ironed plaid shirt, with his Retired Air Force cap straight on his balding head, he was just some old man waiting for his wife to finish shopping. The vacant look on his face makes most people think he isn’t all there… maybe alzheimers, maybe dementia, but he watched as each person passed him. I, too, watched as each person passed him, not giving him a thought.
I walked up to him, “Excuse me Sir”. I reached out my right hand and finished, “I’d like to Thank You for your service to our country”. He looked up at me, I saw as the tears began to well in his old eyes, he struggled to get up, once on his feet he squared himself, and reached out and took my hand in his. His grip was light but purposeful, gently squeezing my hand, his gratitude was like electricity running up my arm. “It was my honor to serve.” It was then that I saw the fire in his eyes… I took him back to another time, another place. Somewhere only he knows. I asked if I could sit with him a minute, I wanted to hear about his service. After a few minutes of hearing his personal story I realize all of his military history was lived before I was even born. But that matters not, to me. He served in one of the bloodiest wars of our time… and he returned. Many did not, and it’s for them that he represents.
A frail woman pushing a grocery cart, walks up to us. She eyed me with some suspicion, I stood up and reached my hand out to him one more time. “Again, let me thank you, Sir” I began, but this time he interrupted. “I’d like you to meet my wife, Mrs. Johnson, she is also retired.” I swing my open hand towards Mrs. Johnson, I say “Thank You, Mrs. Johnson, for your service to our country.” She reached out, I cupped her tiny hand in both of mine and looked her right in the eye. “I am so proud of you both” I say. The frightened look gave way and this little woman grew a smile that warmed my soul.
I don’t know how I affected their day… but I am forever changed. And forever grateful for the freedoms that they were willing to give their lives for.
Thank You to all who currently serve, for those who have served, and for each soul whose fate was the ultimate sacrifice. You are not forgotten in my world.