[Originally published in 2011]
I saw him several times as I moved from aisle to aisle at the grocery store. I would steal a glance as I moved from ‘Cookies/Snacks/Chips’ to ‘Household Items/Stationary’, then back to ‘Bread/Rolls.’
An older, heavy-set man, fully occupying a Hoveround cart, wearing a blue cap with some kind of military insignia. He sat an at end cap, going nowhere. Waiting for someone, I guessed.
I bet he’s a veteran, I thought. I should tell him ‘thank you for serving’. I’ve done this before. Not as a habit, but here and there. For me, it’s not just some sweet little thing that makes me feel good. I mean, thanks to guys who served, I can do the stuff I do, pursue my dreams, live in a house in a safe neighborhood with my wife. The biggest injustice I have to suffer is when some jerk cuts in line at the Starbucks drive-thru. This is the gloriously free life we get to lead because these guys stood on the wall for us. So I figure, a little bit awkwardness in saying ‘thanks’ is a small thing.
I made my final approach to the checkout, moving toward him. Then, at the last second, I just went to the checkout. I don’t know why. I don’t think of myself as a shy person, but I have these fleeting moments.
While checking out, I saw some blurb on a magazine cover about Clint Eastwood’s Flags Of Our Fathers movie. I glanced to my left and the guy was still there.
My opening line was ‘Did you serve?’
“Why d’ya think I got this?” he replied, motioning to his hat.
I don’t remember his name; I do remember when I shook his hand, his grip was strong and that he didn’t let go of my hand. I do remember he looked me square in the eye. I do remember he said he was there at D-Day. I do remember noticing one of his legs wasn’t his own. I do remember him lifting his hat, showing me his souvenir, a deep, ugly, scabby wound covering most of his head.
What can you say to a group of people who did so much for us? All I can think to say is, I remember.
And thank you.
– Matthew Porter
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