Friday, March 24, 2006
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.