Roland Smith was out with his wife, and the two ended up going for pizza. Normally a quiet affair, the two were enjoying their meal when Roland noticed a veteran sitting nearby. It wasn’t just that the man was wearing his old Marine hat…it was that the man had lost a leg.
We often forget just how lucky we are in life until we come across someone else who gave up their own comfort so that we can continue to live freely.
My wife and I went to Pizza Hut this evening for dinner. There weren’t very many people in there and we were seated across the aisle from another couple. We took our seats and I noticed the man who appeared to be about mid to late 60s was wearing an old Marine cap with a couple of insignia on it. I noticed he had a prosthesis on his left side from the knee down.
I asked if he was “Airborne” and he said no but he was a “Huey pilot in ‘Nam.”
“I pulled four tours in ‘Nam and was shot down 7 times, the last time was when I lost this leg,” as he pulled up his pants leg to reveal the prosthesis. I asked what he did when he came back home, and he said not much because people back then would not hire Vietnam veterans and particularly those that lost limbs.
He said he lived in New York for a while and drank away his misery for about a year or so and then moved back home to North Carolina. He said the VA gave him 35% disability when he returned, but later on he got a lawyer and sued to get 100% disability as he aged. I never asked his name, and he didn’t ask mine. The waitress brought him their bill and laid it on the table.
I got up and walked over to his table and pulled the bill from the folder and told him that I would be taking care of this for him tonight. I stood at attention and saluted him, holding it until he returned my salute. He looked up at me and with tears swelling in his eyes he said: “You are the first one to ever do that for me since I came back…”
I went back to my seat to begin our meal. He and his wife finished their meal but before he left, he walked over to our table and gave me the insignia pin that he wore on his hat that signified his being a “Chopper Pilot.”
I stood up and saluted him again. He looked me in the eyes and said, “I’ve got to go now before I start crying.” Now folks, this is what a real hero looks like in everyday life. And for one brief moment in my life, I felt as though I had done my best to welcome home a Vietnam veteran.
Sometimes, the smallest kindness can make the biggest difference. This old Marine was just trying to get by, and for some reason, his life had been struggle after struggle even though he had literally lost a limb for his country. The simple gesture of paying for his meal was enough to fill his heart with joy, and it teaches us a lesson too. Respect and honor go a long way, and sometimes, all it takes is a little acknowledgment to make the most difference in someone else’s life.
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