Reader Mark B. emailed this story this morning, on Veteran’s Day. It’s worth taking a minute of your day and reading.
I just wanted to get the day over with and go down to Smokey’s for a few cold ones. Sneaking a look at my watch, I saw the time, 1655. Five minutes to go before the cemetery gates are closed for the day. Full dress was hot in the August sun. Oklahoma summertime was as bad as ever — the heat and humidity at the same level — both too high.
I saw the car pull into the drive, ’69 or ’70 model Cadillac Deville, looked factory-new. It pulled into the parking lot at a snail’s pace.
An old woman got out so slow I thought she was paralyzed. She had a cane and a sheaf of flowers, about four or five bunches as best I could tell.
I couldn’t help myself. The thought came unwanted, and left a slightly bitter taste: “She’s going to spend an hour, and for this old soldier my hip hurts like hell and I’m ready to get out of here right now!”
But for this day my duty was to assist anyone coming in. Kevin would lock the “In” gate and if I could hurry the old biddy along , we might make the last half of happy hour at Smokey’s.
I broke Post Attention. My hip made gritty noises when I took the first step and the pain went up a notch. I must have made a real military sight; middle-aged man with a small pot-gut and half a limp, in Marine Full Dress Uniform, which had lost its razor crease about 30 minutes after I began the watch at the cemetery.
I stopped in front of her, halfway up the walk. She looked up at me with an old woman’s squint. “Ma’am , may I assist you in any way?”
She took long enough to answer. “Yes, son. Can you carry these flowers? I seem to be moving a tad slow these days.”
“My pleasure Ma’am.” Well, it wasn’t too much of a lie.
She looked again. “Marine, where were you stationed?”
” Vietnam , Ma’am. Ground-pounder. ’69 to ’71.”