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A Soldier in 1969

June 8, 2012

There are some memories I don’t want to lose, so I decided to start writing them down.  This one is from 1969, I was 5 1/2 years old.

On a winter night, early in 1969, I was in the back seat of our small family car with my two sisters. I was on the right side, next to the door and behind my mom, dad was driving. I was sitting up, looking over the front seat and out the windshield, it was 1969 and I didn’t have a seat belt on and we had never even heard of a car seat. My dad noticed a man hitch hiking on the side of the road, so did I.  He had a long coat on and carried a small duffel bag. It was a soldier. My dad pulled over in front of him and pointed to the back door, the one I was next to. The soldier opened the door and squeezed in the back seat with us kids. He sat next to me and I was mesmerized. His coat was light brown and he had some campaign ribbons and a few medals pinned on his chest. His hair was short and dark and he had a military cap on. He glanced down at me and smiled when he first got in. I stared at him the whole time. We gave him a short ride and I remember every word my dad said to the young soldier.

My dad said, “Howdy, you just get back?”

The soldier answered, “Yes, sir.” He was just off the plane from Vietnam.

“Where are you headed?”

“To the bus stop, sir.”

“That’s not too far, we’ll be there in a minute.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The young soldier said nothing more and after a moment my dad said, “I know it has been hard on you men, over there.”

The soldier took a deep breath and slowly turned his head toward the window. After a moment a tear poured out of the corner of his eye. We drove in silence the next few minutes and I couldn’t look away from him.

My dad pulled the car up to a diner next to the bus stop.  As we stopped my dad said, “Hold on a sec.” He dug out what little change he had in his pocket and held it out toward the soldier and said “You can get some coffee there and something to eat, they are happy to see soldiers there.”

The soldier nodded, held out his hand and the change tinkled into his palm. He said, “Thank you, sir” and stepped out, shut the door and walked toward the diner. We drove away.

I have thought of that often. At that age I was in awe of this giant soldier. He seemed like superman to me and I was stunned when he cried. I have since learned that all people are fragile and scarred, even if they are soldiers by profession. Over the years I have prayed for that soldier, who is now an old man. Perhaps I will see him again.

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