The Distinction I Never Earned

I’m very respectful of our veterans, no matter where or when they have served our country.  If I’m sitting in an airport and a young man or woman comes by in their uniform, I’ll speak up and thank them for their service.  They usually reply in a very kind way.  Last week in Chicago I thanked two veterans for their service.  I want to tell you about that.

The first incident occurred on the Chicago subway.  Seated across from me in the next row was a black gentleman about 50 years old.  He wore a baseball-style cap that had the words “Army Veteran” printed on the front.  As the bus rumbled on, I focused on his features.  He was stocky and his face bore the wrinkles of age and stress.  He wasn’t destitute, but he wasn’t rich either.  He seemed bogged down and preoccupied in thoughts of the day.   I hesitated about thanking him for his military service but then I thought, “He’s wearing that cap for a reason.  He’s rightfully proud that he served our country.  Go ahead and thank the fellow.”  Right before the train reached my station I got up, leaned over and said, “Sir, I want to thank you for serving our country.”  He was a bit startled, but you could tell in his eyes that he really appreciated those brief words.

Later in the week I was on a Chicago bus when a disabled Caucasian man got on with his wife.  He was dressed in a white shirt and wore an Army hat that identified him as a member of a veteran’s association.  I believe he was old enough to be a World War II vet.  As the bus approached my stop I slid over and sat next to the man.  He wore a hearing aid, so I spoke distinctly when thanking him for his service.  Then I looked him in the eyes and said to him, “You’re my hero!”  The aged man smiled at me and a tear came to his eye.  Mission accomplished.

I was in College during the Vietnam War.  I wasn’t drafted and never enlisted.  Had I been drafted I would have gone to Vietnam.  I wasn’t a war protester, but I wasn’t lining up to volunteer either.  I never served our country and did not earn the distinction of the title “Veteran.”  That’s why I am particularly thankful for those who served.

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