Monday, May 26, 2014

A Memorial Day Story

Last Fall the Condo Association decided to remove a wall from the one time fountain now planter which sets in our front yard. It was falling down. It was going to be very expensive to repair and the decision was made to tear it down. There really wasn't any plan as to what to do with the space afterwards.

One of the things Heather misses about not living in a house with a yard is being able to garden. She decided to take matters into her own hands.

The mission for Memorial Day Weekend was to make this look good.
She loves getting her hands in the dirt. Me? Not so much. I was the heavy lifter. By Saturday evening she had accomplished quite a bit.

She wanted to add some more annuals and it still needed more mulch. Mulch means me.

Early Sunday afternoon I headed to the garden supply store to buy three more bags of mulch, which brings me to the story.

I noticed him when I came into the store. He was an African-American gentlemen of about my age. His tee-shirt said, "Marines" on it, as did his hat.

While waiting to checkout I saw him again. He was in the other line. He was buying a flat of petunias. When I got to my car, there he was again. We were parked next to one another. I could have kept my mouth shut, but those of you who know me know that wasn't likely. "There's nothing I like better than seeing a Marine with his petunias," I said. Thankfully, he chuckled. "Happy Memorial Day," I said next and then added, "That doesn't sound right, but I think you know what I mean. Thank you."

"Well," he said, "I tell folks when you see a veteran my age you can assume he served in Vietnam. It's okay to say 'thank you' to us, but better to say, 'Welcome home'."

I walked over to him. "I need to tell you about something." I went on to tell him about my daughter.

My daughter lives in Norfolk, Virginia and in addition to being an electrical engineer employed by the Navy, she sings in the Virginia Symphony Chorus. One of their performances each year is during the Virginia International Tattoo.  I explained to him a Tattoo was a military show with lots of drill teams, bag pipes, patriotic songs, and other military themed performances. This year the Tattoo made a special point of honoring Vietnam veterans and their families. At her performances just before the Armed Forces Medley the master of ceremonies asked all the Vietnam veterans to stand and be recognized. And, then the MC said to them, "Welcome home."

I, also, felt I needed to tell him she told me many of them broke down and cried. Why did I feel this need? Because he was crying.

I put out my hand. He took it. I shook his hand and said, "Welcome home." With his left hand he grabbed my right arm between the elbow and the shoulder. I responded by putting my left hand on his right shoulder. He looked at me, really looked at me, squeezed my arm hard enough I thought he might leave marks, and said, "Thank you."

We let go of each other. He went to his car. I went to mine. We drove off. I never did get his name and I suspect I will never see him again, but I'm positive I was supposed to see him when I did.

By the way, here's Heather's finished project.


  1. And that is what and who we are missing when we don't open up to fellow human beings. That's all it takes. A little courage to engage a stranger. I have no doubt he will remember you and your story for the rest of his life.

    1. It was a very painful time. I am amazed at Life sometimes. Almost didn't share the story because it seems almost to good to be true.

  2. Thanks for welcoming that Vietnam Vet home, their treatment by the nation of the times was shameful.

    1. I'm afraid many people have forgotten, or have wanted to forget the way a number, but far from most blamed the soldiers for doing their duty.

      Isn't it wonderful that the story starts in Norfolk and ends up here. I'm wondering if this is one of the stories which might grow and send out other tendrils. We'll see.

      Dom, sadly, I don't think we are very good at bringing our warriors "home". You would know more about that than I. I read where the number of veterans continues to decrease in Congress. I suspect the number members of Congress who have sons and daughters who are veterans is decreasing even more quickly. I find this worrisome.

  3. Awesome story!

    I grew up with Viet Nam vets as fathers, uncles, cousins, neighbors as an Army brat during the "Viet Nam Era" (1965-1975).

    And you're right, those that returned never got a "welcome home".

    Well done!

    P.S. I also spent time in Norfolk during my Navy years. Kudos to your daughter!

    1. Deb,
      Norfolk has been a good place for my daughter. She moved there as a spouse of a member of the Navy. The marriage didn't work out, but her being in Norfolk has. By the way, he'd planned on the Navy being his career. He's out of the Navy now. My daughter, on the other hand, works for the Navy and hopes to be there for a long time. Funny how things work out.

  4. Simply beautiful. Both the plantings and your encounter with the Marine.

    1. I love how this story started in Norfolk and everything came together here. Right place, right time. I wonder if there is going to be more to this story.