I was stuck in rush hour traffic when my engine sputtered and my car came to a stop. I’ve always hated driving in the city. But there I was, halfway through a four-way stop, blocking traffic. I immediately began to panic.
He was small, thin and rugged, clothed in torn jeans and a black leather jacket. His hair was long and silver, covered by a bandana that looked like the American flag. If he hadn’t offered to help me that day, I might not have noticed the dog tags around his neck or the pain his eyes.
He Was Homeless
As children, we’re taught to be cautious of strangers. As women, we’re taught that applies especially to men we don’t know. So it was easy to ignore him before as I passed him standing on the side of the road.
I had seen him. I even read the sign he was holding. It said:
Anything you have to give. God bless you.
I did my best not to give my attention, so I wouldn’t feel guilty for not helping. When he approached my window and softly knocked to get my attention, guilty is exactly how I was feeling.
His name was Ron. “But all my friends call me, ‘Lieutenant,’” he said as he introduced himself and diverted the oncoming traffic.
At first, I wanted to tell him I was sorry I hadn’t stopped when I saw him before. But I didn’t.
I greeted him warmly and thanked him for coming to help me. Then we began to move my vehicle to a more convenient location. He pushed and I steered. He insisted. Soon, I was safely parked at a nearby McDonald’s.
As I shook his hand and thanked him again, I noticed he didn’t have his sign anymore. He must have left it. I asked if I could buy him some dinner. It was the least I could do for his help.
At first, he declined. “It’s okay, ma’am. I stay here some nights. They’re good to me at his one,” he said as he looked towards the ground.
I didn’t expect to sit and eat with him, but I did. He insisted. As we sat together that day, I learned a different side of war.
He Was Married
“19 years!” he said proudly as he reflected. His wife had died six years ago while he was deployed. I listened quietly as told me what happened.
His voice cracked and his eyes filled with tears as he came to the end of his story by saying:
A soldier isn’t supposed to lose a wife; a wife loses her soldier in war. It kills me every single day.
Lt. Ron had been honorably discharged two years later. He has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He had been living with his only son after he returned home from his service. Ten months before I met the Lieutenant, he lost his son, too.
He has no family. He’d been living on the street for eight months.
As I left McDonald’s that day, I didn’t ignore the opportunity to give back to someone who had given and sacrificed so much for so many.
I opened my wallet and I gave all that was in it. I wish I could have given him more.
He’s Not the Only One
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Policy and Planning, in 2009, studies reflected the number of living veterans to be 23,440,000.
Do you know how many of those veterans are receiving benefits and help through the government and country they served to protect?
Not even half of the men and women who have sacrificed, suffered and served!
Remember Our Veterans
Stand behind our veterans every day, not just today. Remember them throughout the end of the year and as you plan your Thanksgiving dinner. Remember them as you warm your hands by the fire this winter and watch your children’s faces light up as they open their gifts Christmas day.
All our veterans have sacrificed something. All the soldiers that are still serving will be veterans one day and every single one of them have a family.
Many have served. Many have given. Many are still fighting.
Some gave all they had. They gave their lives.
I salute every veteran and our active military personnel. Because of you, we have our freedom. Thank you for your service to this country.
We do not say it enough. We do not do enough!
May we rise together to change it.
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