Monday, May 25, 2015

How do you run an errand?

Not really a Memorial Day story, but in the spirit of the day:

A week ago Friday, I made a quick run up to the South County Home Depot. As I pulled into the plaza, near the Home Town Buffet end, I stopped for a few people to cross the parking lot. As they crossed, a rather large car started backing out. It may have been a Crown Vic. I started speaking to myself about patience, despite my desire to quickly get what I needed and return home.

As the car slowly backed out, stopping too short to pull away, but still 10-15 feet away from my vehicle, I noticed the "Combat Infantry Badge" (CIB) license plate. Oh, a fellow vet, well, I can be patient for them. Then, they proceed to pull forward again, over the hatch-striped walking area next to their original spot. I waited, as they slowly backed out again. Again, they stopped short and still at least 15 feet away from me before they began pulling forward. My first thought was, they don't have enough clearance in front of them, and they'll need to back up a third time. I waited.

But, they didn't back up again. They kept going forward, bumping a parked car on the back right corner with their front right corner. The parked car rocked forward for what seemed at least 12 inches. Surely, they'll stop, right? Nope, they just continued forward, rubbing the entire back-side of the parked car's bumper with their front right corner. And once they were clear, they pulled away as though they had clipped that car on a moonless night in Vegas. I again had to wait for some other traffic and while I did, my mind raced. What should I do? Call the police? No. Run inside and quickly find the parked car's owner? No.

First, I memorized the plate, "83 INF". Once I was clear, I chased them down across the parking lot, honking my horn incessantly, flashing my lights like a mall cop. They slowed but didn't immediately stop. I continued and they finally stopped. They must have realized the gig was up. Their attempt at a strip mall hit-and-run had been foiled. To my surprise, I pull up next to a little old man, who was reluctant to roll down his window. Our exchange went like this:

Me: "Sir, do you know you hit a parked car back there as you were pulling out?"
Him, totally and sweetly surprised at my accusation: "Oh, I did? I didn't know."
Me, very concerned he didn't realize he had hit another car as big as his: "Yes, Sir, you did."
Him: "Oh, well, I'll go back and let them know."
Me: "Thank you, Sir."

I drove off, still wanting to quickly complete my Home Depot errand, but with even more haste as I entered the store realizing I had not been exactly clear with him about the details of what I had seen. As I returned to the scene, I saw the Veteran standing in the parking lot, sort of bewildered, while a Home Town Buffet employee looked at the back of his Crown Vic. I pulled up, and let him know he was looking at the wrong end and which car he had hit. At this point, I decided to park, not so much to ensure everything was resolved correctly, but I had a feeling this gentleman was someone about whom I wanted to know a little more.

As I walked up to the front of his vehicle, I noticed his license plate frame. “World War II” across the top. “Battle of the Bulge” across the bottom. I was in complete awe and rightly so. I didn’t like the circumstances of how my path had intersected with this gentleman from the Greatest Generation, but I also knew this was a moment that is occurring with less frequency for each of us. Standing in the presence of a World War II veteran.

As I walked up to him, I noticed his slide on his bolo tie. It was perfectly round, with a miniature medal set in the middle of it, a bronze star medal. Knowing the answer, I asked him in a confirming way, to start the conversation, about him being a World War II vet. Then I said, “And you were at the Battle of the Bulge?” He said, “Yes. I landed on Omaha Beach, was at the Battle of the Bulge, went on to the Hürtgen Forest and met the Russians at the Elbe River.” For a moment I was speechless. I sort of stuttered out, “You landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day?” He said, “No, four days after. The weather was bad and we couldn’t land that day.”

At this point, two gentlemen, who owned the car he hit, came out. The first man was old enough to be my father and he was being followed by his father. They looked at the markings on the bumper and decided it would buff out and told the WWII Vet not to worry about it. The older guy did ask the Vet how old he was, to which he replied, “98, no I mean 95.” Turns out the father was also 95, which gave them both a chuckle.

I waited for them to leave and then I approached the WWII Vet again. I introduced myself, told him of my affiliation with the Army and said it would be my honor to shake his hand. He gladly accepted and as we shook hands, I thanked him for his service while saying, “Our nation owes you a debt of gratitude which cannot be expressed in words.” He thanked me, looked me in the eyes and said, “I was just doing my job.”

Day. Made.

I never asked him for his name, but as you might imagine, his license plate indicates he served with the 83rd Infantry while in World War II.