The Vietnam Veteran
April 7, 2021
Cool and sunny
“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.
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.
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.