Monday, November 11, 2013

Another Veterans Day in America

Samantha and her mom walked into the Taco Bell on this bright sunny Veterans Day. After ordering their food, they waited quietly for a few minutes and glanced around the full room with rarely an empty seat available. Men, women, and children of all ages filled the seats. Neither Samantha nor her mom said much.

"Mary,  number 120," the employee shouted above the noise. Samantha returned with their Gordita cheese boxes, but before they ate Mary reached into her purse and pulled out a thick crisp stack of twenty dollar bills. Attached to the bills were yellow ribbons and tiny American flags.  Secured to the yellow ribbons were small white thank you notes.

Mary stood on top of the bench, "Excuse me." Her voice quavered. She said a little louder this time, "Excuse me." She had their attention and there would be no turning back. Her heart pounded. She had never done anything like this before.

"Would you raise your hands if you are a veteran or actively serving in the military."

People exchanged glances. Fort Walton Beach consisted of service men from all the branches of service; officers and enlisted personnel. Several young men and a few women held their hands high. Samantha approached a table with four young men.

"Woe," one man said as she stopped at their table. Their smiles broadened because her beauty astounded them.

She had long, thick, chestnut hair that draped across her shoulders and rested at her thin waistline. Her brown eyes surrounded by thick black lashes were clouded over with moisture. Her hand shook as she shared a timid smile and handed each man a bill.

They exchanged confused expressions, but accepted the gift she placed in each of their hands.

"Thank you." Their smiles faded when they noticed one tear steal over the rim and slide down her cheek.

"No. Thank you," she said humbly, "thank you for serving our country and protecting us."

The stunned young men sat staring at the bills in their hands.  Silence lingered where loud chatter had once filled the room.

Samantha walked to another table where two women sat and handed them the money. "This is in appreciation of your service, and we wanted to pay for your lunches today."

They nodded.

She went from table to table and distributed the gifts to each military person. Samantha noticed a little boy with his hand held high as he sat with an elderly man and his parents. "This is my great grandfather," the shiny black haired boy said with pride. "He served in World War II."

She placed a bill in his hand and the elderly man looked up. Another tear escaped over the brim of her thick lashes. "Thank you, sir, for your service to our nation."

The man nodded as his eyes delved deep into hers. She saw volumes of pain and knew he had a story to tell, but she wouldn't have the time to listen. She wanted to remain but moved on to another table.

When she finished Samantha returned to her seat, and everyone applauded the servicemen.

Things slowly went back to a low roar of conversations when Mary noticed an older man in a wheelchair nestled in the far corner of the room. His salt and pepper gray hair hung to his shoulders. No one had paid attention to him eating with a middle-aged woman. They hadn't responded when asked who were servicemen or veterans. A feeling she couldn't shake crept across the back of her neck.

She stood.

"Where are you going, mom?" Samatha asked with a mouthful of burrito. Her eyes followed the direction that Mary stared.

She didn't answer but slowly found her way to the table. She had the feeling the day before that she needed to write a special note and affix it to a hundred dollar bill. The man in the wheelchair had not seen her approach. She slipped her hand into his and placed the bill inside.

He looked up in surprise.

"Thank you," she said. She knew she had made the right choice. The man had all the appearance of a lost and forgotten soldier from the Vietnam era.

"How did you know?" he asked.

"Just a gut feeling. I wanted you to know how much I appreciate your service to our country. My husband served in Vietnam."

The man's eyes drifted down to his shriveled legs, vacant from the knees down. He looked back up, his clear blue eyes glazed with moisture. "Landmine," he muttered.

"I figured as much," she whispered. She patted his shoulder. Not able to remain there much longer without breaking down, she just said, "Thank you," then turned and went back to her table.

Her stomach too knotted to enjoy her meal, she fixed it to go and silently waited for Samantha to finish. She looked like her daughter, only a little heavier and with lighter hair. Though old enough to be her grandmother, the resemblance still showed.

Mary thought, How many stories would go untold by the men and women who served during these wars? How many would never know how much suffering and pain they endured because they never returned to tell their stories?  Or maybe the pain was too much to share, but they could never forget? How many? Thousands. Millions. Would the children today appreciate the sacrifices they made on our behalf? It is our duty as 'We The People' to see that the veterans are never forgotten. How much a simple appreciative 'thank you' can mean to our not forgotten soldiers.

They quietly slipped out unnoticed and drove home in silence.

Another Veterans Day passed, and the thought of her husband, Alex, of forty years marriage would be honored by those simple little thank you notes and crisp twenty dollar bills; a small deed for a great sacrifice. He worked away from home, so they weren't able to honor him in person. Instead they shared their appreciation another way.

Happy Veterans Day.

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