Friday, February 9, 2007

An Ancient Warrior from World War II

“You’ve never lived until you’ve almost died. For those who have fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know.”

Unknown source from the Vietnam era

The elderly man was not very tall, he had a thick head of gray hair and he wore a black baseball cap that said “World War II Veteran”. He was entering the McDonald’s as I walked out and I could tell from his halting steps that he was dealing with health issues. This would be natural for a man who was surely in his 80’s, if not older.

From the look of his clothes, life was not very easy for this ancient warrior. I paused for a minute, then turned around and walked back inside.

The old soldier was placing his order, so I stepped to the counter and told the girl at the cash register that I would pay for his meal. He looked surprised, but he saw my Army uniform and smiled. His voice cracked a bit as he said “Thank you”.

I asked him where he served in the war and I could almost see him stand a little straighter when he said “the South Pacific”. His eyes watered up and he said, “It was a long time ago.”

I could feel one of those darned lumps in my throat when I looked at him and thought about my own father. Dad died in 1982, but he was an infantryman in World War II. This man was about the age my father would have been, but he was another warrior who helped save the world from the Japanese and Nazi empires.

I told the old soldier that it was men like him who inspired me to enter military service back in 1968. I said I was grateful for their example, for their sacrifice and for the blood their generation shed for the rest of us.

I don’t think he knew what to say except “thank you”, so I handed the money to the McDonald’s clerk. Just then the manager walked up. He heard my comments to the old soldier and said, “Don’t worry about it, sir. I’ve got it.” I shook the hand of the World War II veteran and walked away.

For only a moment, I paused outside to look back at the old veteran. I smiled when I saw other customers walking up to the man to shake his hand.

The old soldier was having a good day. And so was I.

SFC Chuck Grist

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