Thursday, August 05, 2010

Patton's Old Soldier

When I’m at the market I like to smile at old people as they quietly shuffle through the store. Often they look quizzically at me, wondering I suppose, why I’m acknowledging them, when most people simply brush hastily by them in their hurry to do whatever they are in a hurry to do. When the old timer realizes that I’m simply offering a friendly greeting, the ladies will often blossom into a gorgeous grin. The men, most of them conditioned by years of working in a treacherous world are more reserved, but about half of them will return the smile or just nod.

This morning as I was going through the store I spotted an old gentleman and his wife making their way slowly through the aisles, stopping now and then to confer with one another about something, and then something else. He was well into his 80’s.

The old timer was wearing one of those “I’m ex-military” hats that are hard to read from a distance. It was crushed down and he slumped forward as he walked. I thought it was a “USS Something” hat indicating he might have been ex-Navy.

I walked over to him and asked what ship? But, just as I asked, I noticed that his hat read U.S. Army…I corrected myself. There were a lot of pins on it—my father had a hat like that that he wore while he was attending his WWII bomb group reunions during the 1980’s and 1990’s. I found it in his things as I was cleaning out his place.

"Germany,” the man said quietly. I hadn’t asked.

“First or Third,” I inquired. He brightened, cocked his head, and narrowed his eyes, probably wondering how I knew to ask that question, but obviously pleased that I did. His eyes welled up.

“Third,” he responded quietly. Patton, I thought—the Army immortalized in the 1970 George C. Scott film.

“155mm,” he went on. I didn’t immediately understand him, but what he was saying was that he had been an artilleryman on a big field piece.

“You saw a lot, didn’t you,” I said. Tears welled again in his eyes. He replied, “Yes, I did.”

“God bless you, and thank you for your service,” I said as I broke away.

“Thank you,” he replied.

I won’t soon forget the encounter—I hope his day was brightened. I know that mine was.


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