Last night I left the house under the excuse of retuning a video. It seemed like a good excuse because I had a video that was going to be overdue if not returned by 10pm. This seemed like the perfect chance to get a little clandestine shopping done for my wife, who is just a tad bit Christmas crazy.
While waiting at the counter in the store I noticed an older man who had a piece of jewelry on with a very nice EGA. An EGA is the Eagle Globe and Anchor is the emblem for the Untied States Marine Corps, for those of you who did not grow up the son of a Marine.
Several years ago I made it a personal challenge to thank anyone who is a vet for their service. So when I see anyone wearing something reminiscent of one of the branches of the service I ask them about it. If they have a hat with a boat crew number I ask them about the Navy, an Army unit patch gets the same question as does the Air-force. If they say they were in, I tell them thank you for your service. If they say no, its my kids's boat, air crew, regiment etc, I ask them to tell their kid thank you for me.
I don't do that with Marines. I ask them if they EARNED the right to wear that EGA. If they say no, its for my kid, husband, etc I ask them pass along my thanks. IF they say yes, and its normally more along the lines of a "HELL YES! OTHERWISE I WOULDN'T BE WEARING IT. WHAT DO YOU TAKE ME FOR?" Then I say, something along the lines of, "I thought you looked like a Marine, I just wanted to say thank you for your service." This almost always does two things: 1. brings them to attention and 2. elicits a beaming light of pride from their eyes. I've done this to a man in his 80's who was bent over from age. He got out of his wheel chair and stood straight to let me know that I was more than welcome and he wished he could do it all over again.
Back to last night. I went through my normal "so did you earn the right to that EGA" question. I think I narrowly avoided getting my butt kicked by a man 30 years older then me BTW. Predictably he came to attention. I do mean attention. Ram rod straight, eyes locked forward, chest out, fingertips perfectly aligned etc. USMC on a parade ground attention. I could almost see him in his dress blues. I gave my usual hearty, "I thought you looked like a Marine, I just wanted to say thank you for your service."
Perfectly at attention, he began to weep.
I teared up as well, and for the first time since I started my personal campaign of saying thanks to vets I wish I had not said anything.
Then he spoke, "no one has every told me thank you".
"Well they should have" I replied. "I appreciate your service". I said and turned to go.
"When did you serve?" he asked me. I stopped and turned back around. "That honor is not mine to claim." I replied. "I just make it a point to say thanks to those who have". I went on, "My father served with the 3rd Mar Div and pulled security at the De Nang airbase in 67 and 68".
That opened the flood gate of info. He served in Viet Nam from 1964 till 1972. He was with the 1st and 3rd Marine Recon. When we were done talking, and we were done, the store was getting ready to close; he made me promise to tell my dad thank you and Semper Fi. In his estimation my father had done something right and quite frankly I hadn't earned his respect as #1) I am not a Marine, or #2)even in one of the other support branches of the military who do the less important jobs that let Marines go and fight Americas enemies. I told him I would pass it on.
I got home well after bath time (one of my normal jobs) and past bed time, also my normal job. Mrs. Ipsa was slightly less than happy with me. When she demanded an accounting, I gave it. As I was getting ready to round the kidos up for bed, she told me to call my father. As she pointed out, "You'll forget if you don't do it now". So I made the call. The kids were even latter getting to bed. My dad informed me of how great this Marine was. How tough he had it. How my dad's combat experience was like being on vacation compared to everything this man faced. I suspect that dad was standing at attention while he and I had this chat. Ram rod straight, eyes locked forward, chest out, USMC on a parade ground attention.
I never got the man's name.
I don't know if you are the type who will go up and talk to a stranger because they are wearing a hat or a pin that has a unit on it. If you are, try out my little program. Tell a vet thanks. You might be the only person that ever has. You owe them this much. They earned it. Some more than others have paid the price of your freedom.