Old-time soldiers, like my dad, put their military service behind them for the most part. They were proud to have served the country, and that service shaped the rest of their lives, but they usually didn’t talk about it a lot, or wear it on their sleeve. For the most part, most soldiers like my dad, were humble men that went about their daily lives as anonymously as rest of us. They never sought appreciation, or gratitude, and some of what they did receive embarrassed them a little. This is the story of one day, in my dad’s otherwise anonymous life, where he received gratitude and appreciation, from otherwise anonymous people in his favorite restaurant, and how much that meant to him.
My dad wore his Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) jacket, and hat, when he attended the local VFW, because he wanted his fellow soldiers to know that he was one of them. He enjoyed the camaraderie of speaking with fellow soldiers at the VFW, and it made him feel proud to be considered a part of that group. My dad didn’t, however, wear his VFW jacket and hat casually. I can’t remember him wearing them to the store, in restaurants, or in any establishments other than the VFW.
On one particular Veteran’s Day, my dad was feeling especially patriotic. He didn’t know why he felt that way, on that particular Veteran’s Day, he just did. He just wanted to wear his VFW jacket and hat to the restaurant he frequented for breakfast.
“A little kid came up and shook my hand,” he said, “and he said ‘thank you for your service sir’. I thought that was so cute,” my dad said with a smile, “and I shook the little feller’s hand. Then I found out that some anonymous patron in the restaurant informed my waitress that ‘that man, in the VFW jacket, will not be paying for his meal today.’ I thought they had me confused with someone else,” my dad said. “I thought, they confused me with some kind of war hero. Another man, a young man with big muscles, came up to my table and informed me that he was currently serving. He said that he was proud to carry on the proud tradition of serving the country in the manner I did. Other people asked me what war I served in, I told them, and they thanked me for my service. People who were shopping in the [attached] supermarket, came up to my table and whispered how grateful they were for their freedom, and they thanked me for it. They asked me if I was paying for my meal, and I said no. I said that someone else in the restaurant was taking care of it, and they said ‘good’ and walked away. These people would not leave me alone.”
If you knew my dad, you knew that he described these moments of his life in complaint form. He didn’t care for people making a big deal about him. It made him uncomfortable. He didn’t care to be the center of attention. He was just at that restaurant that day to eat a little breakfast, and he was admittedly feeling a little bit more patriotic on that Veteran’s Day than he had in others past, so he decided to celebrate Veteran’s Day in his own quiet, symbolic way. He was overwhelmed by the reaction he received.
“That’s actually sounds pretty cool,” I said when my dad reached a breaking point in his rant.
He paused, a little surprised by my reaction, and said, “It was,” and he continued on with his rant about how he hated being the center of attention. That little acknowledgement, those two words, would be all he would say. If you knew my dad, however, you knew this meant that he was touched by these small displays of acknowledgement and appreciation by a bunch of anonymous people that didn’t want to disturb his breakfast, but couldn’t pass him by without saying a few words of gratitude for his service.
“It has to feel nice though to have so many people appreciate what you did though,” I said. “I mean how many times have people done that to you?”
“This was the first time,” he said, and as it would turn out the only time in his life anyone ever thanked my dad for his service. I did not want to say that he may have had those days more often, if he wore his VFW hat and jacket more often, because I didn’t want to poke holes in his day, but I’m sure he would’ve had more comments of appreciation if he sought them more often. That just wasn’t my dad. If he had any idea that that would’ve happened on that day, in that restaurant, he probably wouldn’t have worn his VFW hat and jacket.
This particular piece is not about trying to get you to thank a soldier for their service on this Veteran’s Day. I know that some people feel a little queasy doing this. I know that some people accidentally take their freedoms for granted, and they don’t equate the sacrifice most soldiers have made with the ability to take freedom for granted. I also know that some people feel that being patriotic is a sign of a lack of intelligence, and this particular piece is not about changing any minds in that regard. This is just a little thank you note, I wanted to send to those people that made my dad feel extraordinarily special for one day in his life.
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You might enjoy this poem about families and absence, “While He’s Away: A Poem About Being Gone.” http://wp.me/p3BzWN-lB