Friday, March 24, 2006

American Patriots

I was on my way home from New York City. It was well after midnight and I was Southbound on the New Jersey Turnpike. I pulled in at the Joyce Kilmer service plaza for a soda and some peanuts to stave off drowsiness.

I was standing in line at the little convienence store behind a very young soldier in desert fatigues and jump boots. He had an armful of junk food and sodas. He looked barely old enough to shave. In front of him at the checkout was a sixtyish man and his wife.

The older couple were just about to pay for their things when the man turned to the cashier and said to the clerk, "Ring up this soldier's things too."

The young soldier protested and said, "That's not necessary sir."

The older man said, "Son, I want to thank you for what you are doing. I never had the opportunity to serve. But I'm proud of what you guys are doing. Let me pay for this. It's the least we can do."

The young soldier was visibly shaken. But he got out a quick, "Thank you, sir."

Then the older guy shook his hand and said, "Thank you, be safe, and God bless you." And then he and his wife walked back out into the night. The soldier gathered his bag of junk food and walked out to the highway towards his life too.

The clerk and I smiled and tried to ignore each other's tears as I paid for my peanuts.

Two American patriots just met for the first time on a New Jersey turnpike. A generation apart in time, but brothers in spirit.


anonymous heckler said...

Since I'm not disclosing my real identity, I'm being forced to take one of these word verification tests to prove to the computer that I am not a robot (who's to say I'm not, regardless?). I always get very nervous that I am not reading the letters correctly. What happens to the robots who get caught? Will they send me to some holding cell of robots who attempted to post a heckling message and failed the test? Is there a place in this world for humans with poor letter verification skills? What if I'm simply a robot?

Ahem. At any rate... my question is: you really teared up?

Toucan Sam

Rick Wilson said...

Dear Toucan Sam:

I don't care if you are a robot or not. Everybody must go through the wiggly letter test. Even this humble blogger. If you are outed as a robot, Isaac Asimov's ghost will reeducate you in the three laws of robotics. Please see:

However, because I like your cereal, I'll answer you.

Yes, I really teared up. Patriotism is not an empty emotion. Take a trip to Arlington Cemetery some day and look at the thousands of markers. Drive by the Pentagon wedge that was attacked on 9/11 while you are there. Selfless service for others is the highest calling of humans. To have someone acknowledge that service is pretty touching.

mike said...

You really hit the nail on the head. Selfless service is what the armed forces are all about. Think about the impact of that citizen’s simple show of support in terms of that soldier’s morale.

That soldier (almost certainly going to Iraq or Afghanistan sometime in the future if he hasn't already been)will at some point wonder what in the hell he's doing it all for.

Then he'll hopefully remember the people back home who support him and are appreciative of his service. He wont think about the GI Bill, the VA Loan, the 20 year retirement (benefits which are worth something only if you live long enough to use some of them like I have). He'll think about his family's pride, the heritage of his service and all of the people who-even if they don't believe in the mission-believe in him. Even and especially strangers.

Trust me, that feeling will stay with him long after those Doritos are gone. I wasn't there but Rick's story is enough to emotionally touch any Veteran. Thank you for sharing it.