Monday, July 4, 2016

The Hat

As I sit here trying to figure out how I want to word this post, I can see the man sitting in the booth at the restaurant my husband and I just dined in.  I can see “the hat” he wore, proudly I might add.  I can hear his low, somewhat scratchy voice as he talked to the young man who was dining with him.  I couldn’t make out what he was saying, just that he was talking.  I wasn’t facing him, but I saw him when he walked in.  I saw the hat and I knew.  However, from the sound of his voice I would have known that he was now an old man. 

His special hat was black with gold embroidered lettering claiming “World War II Veteran.”

There aren’t many of them left, you know.  That’s what makes him all the more special and what brings me to the crux of this post.  This man is part of the reason we celebrate July 4th.  Yes, I know we already celebrated this holiday long before this man was even born.  However, it doesn’t weaken the sacrifice or service he nor any other veteran past and present made when they served.
Pic from militarygr.com

My husband and I try to discreetly page our server and ask her to bring us his ticket.  We buy his dinner.  Of course my husband, trying to hurry forgets that I was still eating my dinner and therefore we are stalled in leaving before the man realizes who bought his and his companion’s dinner.  I hurry to finish and we stand to leave but… We got caught.  He motioned us over to his booth.

“Did you buy my dinner?”

I plaster my prettiest, sweetest smile on my face, mainly to prevent myself from breaking down, and stay quiet.  I always do.  His sacrifice just humbles me to tears.  My husband answered for the both of us though.

“Yes, I did.  I noticed your hat.”

“There aren’t many of us left, you know.”

“Yes, I do know.  Thank you for your service.”

“Ah, well you’re welcome.  You know, I’m from Sesser and there are only three of us left from there.”  

They’re all in their nineties.  But this man doesn’t talk or act like it.  I would have never known other than I know about the age one who served in WWII should be.   This Veteran is sharp as a tack.

As we turned to leave, my husband says one more time, though almost in tears himself, “Thank you again for all you did for us.”

“Well, you’re welcome.”

It’s things like this that make what we do all worth it.  Why not buy the dinner of someone wearing the hat identifying them as a Veteran?  It’s the least we can do for what they did for us.  But even if you can’t buy their dinner, definitely go up and tell them you noticed their hat then thank them for their service. 

I met a Vietnam Veteran one time in an antique store.  I know, that sounds funny.  He wasn’t on the shelf.  He was working in the store.  As I was paying for my treasures, he struck up a conversation with my daughter-in-law and me.  He was a rough as a cob, gravelly voice and attitude to match, biker dude.  It was a front.  I knew it.  He was wearing the hat so I gauged my moment carefully.  It wasn’t long before he hinted about serving in Vietnam.  That’s when I spoke up.

“I noticed your hat.  Thank you for your service.”

He just stopped and stared at me.  I smiled my sweet, little smile.  This rough-around-the-edges, biker, Vietnam Veteran didn’t know how to respond.  It was okay.  It wasn’t easy for him, he had already let me know that.  I just wanted him to know that I knew and I appreciated what he did.  It wasn’t easy for me but as he stared at me I stared back, looking him square in the eye, smile on my face, until he saw that I was sincere. 

“You’re welcome.  I appreciate that.”

“I appreciate what you did.”

We left it at that and I left.

My whole point of this post is that Independence Day is so much more than the fireworks.  It’s more than a backyard barbeque.  We often forget that all around us are men and women who have served our country so that we can celebrate the freedom that we so often take for granted and that is under attack even more today than ever.


So the next time you see “the hat” don’t ignore it.  Instead, if you can, buy the dinner, pay it forward, or just go up and shake a hand and tell the Veteran underneath the hat a very sincere, “Thank you for your service.”


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