I had meant to go chasing sandhill cranes today but as I drove through the small town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, I stopped for an old couple slowly crossing the street. As I waited, I looked off to the left and noticed the bunting and flags and old men with families heading in the same direction as the couple. I drove on but something in my heart wouldn’t let go and I did a U-turn and went back.
My dad was a WWII veteran, always careful to point out he was never in combat and he always showed respect for those who had fought, whether with guns or tanks or planes.
There they were today, veterans in wheelchairs, with oxygen tanks, and hats, waiting for the ceremonies to begin.
Not many of them are left, and this veteran in his yellow jacket is probably one of few alive who remember D-Day first-hand. To his left is a grey-haired ponytailed Vietnam vet. So many wars, so many veterans.
This old veteran reminded me of my dad. No combat hat, but sitting with the rest of the vets, he was a quiet survivor. He’d done his time and I got the feeling he was here more to pay tribute to the others than to receive any honors himself.
On this day, I’ll tell you a story my mother made me promise not to tell till my dad had died. He had made her promise not to tell anyone, but she didn’t want the story to die with her, so she told me. It is this one story, more than anything else, that explains the kind of person my dad was his whole life.
After he got out of the Army Air Corps, my dad went to USC on the GI Bill, graduated, got a job, and married. He and my mom bought a starter house in Reseda, thanks to VA financing. My dad worked on cars in the tiny garage, and my mother mostly left him along those Sunday afternoons. One Sunday, she went out to ask him something and he wasn’t there. She shrugged it off. A few Sundays later, she went out and noticed he wasn’t there again. So she waited.
A little bit later, he came walking up the street, toolbox in hand. She asked him where he’d been and at first, he didn’t want to say. Finally, he told her that most Sundays for a few hours, he walked around their neighborhood and when he saw a house where the window had a Gold Star, he would knock on that door and ask if they needed anything done, like plumbing or fixing doors or anything else. My mother asked him why he was doing that; after all, they didn’t really know any of their neighbors yet. His answer was that he came home, and those other sons didn’t, so he was trying to take care of their mothers they way they would have.
To all the veterans, thank you for your service. And, Dad, thank you for teaching me that some debts are never repaid, but you try.