He was pushing a buggy half full of groceries in the Piggly Wiggly. Down one aisle, turn and up the next.
Two three year old twin boys in the cart, standing, reaching for Pop Tarts and Oreo cookies. He was wearing a camouflage army uniform, BDUs, I think. Dressed like a professional, right down to the military haircut and bloused pants legs above his combat boots. He was keeping the twins from buying everything on the cookie aisle.
He had a list in his left hand, pushing the buggy with his right. And a Combat Infantry Badge on his chest, above his heart.
I walked up, extended my hand and said “Sir, I thank you for your service.” He smiled and said “Not a problem, you’re welcome, Sir.”
“I see your badge, I really want to thank you.” I wanted him to know how I felt, both as a father and an American.
“Oh, When did you serve?” he asked.
“I didn’t. Never was in the military.” I said.
“Then how did you know about the CIB? Most people, don’t know about it.”
“I had friends who got theirs in Viet Nam and in the Middle East. That’s why I wanted to thank you for your service. I know what it means.”
I shook his hand again.
I didn’t get his name. And, in a way, it doesn’t matter. He’s a hero. He wears a Combat Infantryman’s Badge. Enough said. Soldiers earn their CIBs the hard way.
A genuine hero and he’s buying groceries in my hometown.
Somewhere, a long time ago, he was in a shooting war. His life on the line, people trying to kill him. He was there, protecting his brothers beside him. Defending our country. Following orders.
Like I said, a hero.
I thought about the other heroes I’ve known. The science teacher who captained a submarine. The math teacher who won the silver star in Europe. The history teacher who got to Normandy about dark-thirty on June 6, 1944. He wasn’t teaching that day.
The local kid who is still missing in action in Viet Nam. The pilot who took his refueling tanker to North Viet Nam so a fighter jet without a fuel tank could latch on and limp on back home. My pilot friend never even knew the other’s name. He just wanted to save a man’s life that day.
The helicopter pilot who spent his year in Viet Nam hauling soldiers to and from battle. He came home and died of a heart attack.
The tombstone out west of town, I remember selling the kid a hamburger and a coke the night before he left. Then seeing his photo and a story the week they buried him. All heroes in my book, including the crazy Marine we called Bushman. He started college with us, two weeks after coming home from Viet Nam.
We rub elbows with heroes every day.
Thanks to all you heroes again.
I hope the two twins know their dad is a hero.
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