The Vietnam Veteran

April 7, 2021
Oakland, CA
Cool and sunny

Pre-Pandemic

“Be sure you wait for the “walk sign” said a man’s friendly voice behind me. I was attempting to cross Lakeshore Blvd., the heavily-trafficked nexus of our neighborhood shopping area. I turned to see a slender man in his mid-seventies, neatly dressed and wearing a dark blue and red cap, jauntily tilted to one side. “I am a Vietnam War veteran, he told me proudly, as we waited together for the light to change. When the “walk” sign finally appeared, I was the only one crossing the boulevard. He had simply been waiting to make sure I crossed safely.

I passed by him frequently after that, playing chess with a buddy at one of the tables set out in front of Starbucks, in deep concentration, always wearing his cap with a flair. One time, as I was trying to purchase a newspaper from the kiosk in front of Starbucks, he flew from his seat and ran to my side, offering to buy me a paper. “You must keep up with the news,” he said. I thanked him but used my own quarter, marveling that a man, who seemed to be living at the edge himself, could be concerned with whether or not an old lady could keep up with the news.

Post-Pandemic

I saw him recently, sitting alone at a table on the sidewalk in front of Starbucks. He was clutching a white Styrofoam cup to his chest. “I hope that cup is for water and not for money,” I thought. Yesterday, he was there again, alone, without the cup. He was still wearing his jaunty cap, but his shirt was rumpled and he was staring vacantly straight ahead.

I stopped. “How are you doing?” His eyes brightened as he turned in my direction. “Just fine!” he said with a smile and bent his arm at the elbow, patting his biceps.

He is a brave man, a Protector. How many good men like this are living on the fringes of society, unrecognized? A wall in honor of the dead does not help the living. Please visit the Vietnam Veterans of America should you feel inclined to help them out.

Looking Forward,
Deviani (Dorothy)

What I am reading:To Speak for the Trees” by Diana Beresford-Kroeger, an Irish botanist’s passionate mission to save our forests and ourselves.

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