In 1975, I retired from the Air Force. Many Americans didn't take kindly to vets. We were often spat upon, called “baby killers” and other things. When I went looking for a job, I frequently felt a rush of cold air when the subject of my prior employment came up. However, we were in the midst of a recession and there were a lot of “job freezes”. Eventually, I was hired by an ex-marine.
In 1985, I was approached by our local legislative delegation (state senator, and two state representatives) and asked if I would serve as a Lee County Commissioner, to replace another that was going to jail, for bribery. After discussing it with my smoking hot trophy wife, I agreed and was told the Governor would call in a few days and make it official. He did. Governor Graham called one evening, we had a short chat, and I was appointed. However, during our conversation he mentioned that he had some concerns about the fact I had been in the military. After I hung up that part of the conversation gnawed away at me for some time.
In 2005, I was traveling up a winding mountain road in North Carolina and followed by a UPS truck. We both stopped at a little shop and as I started to enter the UPS driver tapped my on the shoulder and said, “Thank you for your service”. I was quite startled because that was the first time since I had retired 30 years earlier, that someone had told me that. He saw my quizzical look and said that he had seen my license plate and knew I was a veteran. Since that time, there has been a turn around in general population viewpoint, and several times I have been “thanked”.
A few months ago, I had been shopping at the Patrick Base Exchange, and as a drove my little scooter back to my car, there was a man leaning on it. While I was loading my scooter on the rear lift of my car, the man asked if he could put a little Purple Heart pin on my cap. He had seen my license tag and just waited for me to appear. I thought that was really nice and that the man was obviously military related to have been in that parking lot.
The other day, I stopped at a little vitamin store and was able to park directly in front of the door. Since it was just a few steps, I wouldn't need my scooter or oxygen. As I entered, a young boy (slightly under 5 feet tall), came up to me and started asking questions. He saw my Air Force cap and the little Purple Heart medal. He asked, if I liked the Air Force, if it was “hard”, and several other questions and then said where did you earn the Purple Heart. I told him-Vietnam. Suddenly he stepped back, stood up ramrod straight, and rendered a picture perfect salute, saying, “Thank you for your service, sir”. I returned the salute and he walked back to his mom.
I am not an emotional man, but when I got back into my car, my eyes were misty. I wondered if some of the homeless Vietnam vets lives would have been changed if they had been thanked for their service, by a little boy. I know that little guy eased any of the hard feelings that I might have had stored in the back of my mind and I felt a tremendous sense of relief. Bless his heart.