REPOST FROM JULY 2013
Tonight, Debra took me to her favorite restaurant – La Puente, in South Salt Lake. She does that when she doesn’t want to cook and lures me there with the promise that she will pay, which she seldom does. I don’t mind, because it is good, affordable food; the people are very nice; and it’s fun to be a regular.
I went with the expectation of relaxing and enjoying a nice, quiet dinner with my wife, but it wasn’t to be. It was really my fault and all started when the Marine walked in.
He came in with his parents and brother and stood at the entrance to the foyer. He was in his blue dress uniform and looked sharp – just as a Marine should. His single yellow stripe, outlined in red, announced to the world that he was a recent boot camp graduate, but I didn’t need to look at his sleeve to know, I just looked at his face. This soldier looked to be no more than 15 or 16 years old and I thought that he looked as if he were in a costume rather than a uniform.
The hostess brought them directly towards us and I averted my eyes for a moment so as not to embarrass them. She seated them in the booth directly behind me and I looked into Debra’s eyes. She gave me the look that said, “Go ahead”, so I did. I was on my feet in an instant.
I rounded the corner and faced the Marine. I smiled and extended my hand.
“Damn you look good.”
“Thank you, sir!” he responded as he grasped my hand.
“Did you just graduate?”
“Congratulations. God bless you and thank you for your service.”
I immediately became emotional and really did try to leave, but caught the eye of his father. He looked very proud.
“Are you the dad?”
“Well, you’ve done a good job – so far.” We both laughed.
I turned to the brother and asked how he fit into the family. Although he looked much older than the Marine, he confessed to being younger.
“He’s making it hard for you, ya know.” He nodded and that was enough said.
I didn’t say anything to the mother, she was already tearing up and I would have just made it worse. I caught her eye, smiled, nodded and left her to be proud (and scared).
I returned to my booth and spent the rest of the night making small talk to Debra, all the time my mind on the Marine behind me. I knew what I had to do. I’ve done it before, but not often enough. When our check came, I asked the waitress to step to the cashier with me. I asked what the Marine in the booth behind me was having, paid for it and swore her to secrecy. She thanked me and the cashier thanked me, but all I really wanted was for the Marine to know he was appreciated.
Debra and I hurried to the car and I slid into the seat just before the tears came. There were so many reasons why I was grateful for that young man and all the other young people who sacrifice that portion of their lives to serve and protect us all. I thought of so many young people I know (including my nephews, grandnephews and son-in-law) that have made me so personally proud.
But it was strange, that all I could think to say, out loud at that moment was, “we send too damned many good young men to die in useless wars.” I thought better of it as soon as I said it, knowing that our women and men in uniform have been a tremendous blessing to the world in so many ways.
But down deep inside, I know it is true.