Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Over there

I bought a paper poppy from an old man last night. He was sitting outside the Safeway, alone, wearing a campaign jacket older than I am and an American Legion cap. The sign on the easel beside him read: Remember Veterans' Day on November 11. Buy a poppy.

There was room on the bench beside him, so I sat for a time and we talked.

He told me his name was Walter, said that he would be eighty-five come February. I asked if he had fought in World War II. He glanced at me as if to say, "What a stupid question." But he never said the words. He was polite, as men his age tend to be.

"I was on Normandy Beach on D-Day," he said. "Just twenty years old."

I told him my father, who will be eighty-eight in March, fought in World War II, as well. In the Army Air Corps. A turret gunner on a bomber crew.

"Uh huh," Walter said. "Well, he might have got shot at, but nobody was shooting just at him, were they?"

I had to agree that he had a point. When I got up to leave, he thanked me for buying the poppy and I thanked him. I didn't have to say for what. He knew.

If you haven't already, thank a veteran today for what he did for you. Even better, find a World War II veteran. It may take some time. There aren't that many of them left.