I met a man in Target the other day.
I was waiting for Child 1, sort of browsing-not-buying in the movie section and I had just picked up Flags of Our Fathers. He tapped me on the shoulder and said, "I was just looking at that."
Have you seen it yet? I said, I saw it in the theater, and it was pretty good. But I read the book first, and that helped.
No, I didn't need to see it. I was there.
He was a navy corpsman in the Pacific, and he was quick to say that he wasn't on Iwo, he just treated the guys who were evacuated. We talked for a while there in the store. He said he loves to find Marines and go give them a hard time, calling them "jarhead." Then he tells them what his job was, and every last one of them has given him a hug.
I can understand that.
He didn't go into medicine when he got out, he said. He went to work for the post office instead. But he was glad of the medical training, because when his wife got cancer a few years ago he could be her nurse - the only one she had. He cared for her until the day she died. She was his second wife - he had been married 21 years the first time, 28 the second. That made him about 53 he said, and I agreed.
His son wanted him to move out to California, but he wouldn't go because his wife was buried in the national cemetery in Santa Fe and he didn't want to leave her grave. She had been a WAV in Korea and you could see the way his shoulders straightened when he talked about that. He was going to be buried with her - not beside her, but with her, and he told the officials at the cemetery that he didn't care what they said about his service so long as hers was on the marker.
He asked me if I'd ever been to Washington DC, and then wanted to know if I'd seen the memorial. I knew for him it wasn't the Vietnam Memorial, the one most people of my generation think of, but the World War II Memorial. I had, I told him, and I thought it was about time they put one up too. He shrugged.
He had an application form sitting on his desk at home for the American Legion. He was already a member of the American Veterans of Foreign Wars, but he didn't think he wanted to join the Legion. Their literature was all about benefits, he said, all about getting what was owed you. No one owes me anything.
I think we do, I told him, but he shook his head.
Nope, look at me, I have all my limbs, I've got my head on (for all the good it does me), no one owes me anything. I had an adventure, that's all. I saw a lot of stuff, and some of it was pretty hard, but I was just doing what we all needed to do.
He smiled at me then, and slowly wheeled his basket away.