“Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country it is a sign that he expects to be paid for it.” ~ HL Mencken, 1955
He was just another stranger at the bar when the afternoon began, something of an educator before it ended. We’ve only crossed paths twice more in about two years, so it’s not like a great friendship has developed. Still, calling it a casual acquaintance would be an understatement, at least on my side.
“John, this is Willie. Willie, this is John.” Something like that is how Mike — one of the regulars I’ve gotten to know at beer joints-slash-music venues in Gruene the last 10 years or so — first introduced us. After that, it was up to us. Either one of us could’ve shunned conversation and ambled off to another spot on the little patio at Oma’s. But we didn’t.
I’ll strike up a conversation with anyone, perhaps that should be the initial disclaimer. Both a blessing and a curse, part of my love for conversation anywhere, anytime and any subject is showing off what I know, or think I know. Most of the time it is because of a my lust to learn. It is via conversation that I’ve discovered I was completely wrong about several things along the way, and while nobody loves to be beaten up, a bruise to my occasional know-all arrogance always feels good. Real good, and I mean that in the most masochistic way possible.
So we started to talk. Nice day, sure is, this band is good, oh yeah I’ve seen ’em before, how do you know Mike, where you from stuff. I motioned to the bartender for another round, paid and asked John for more details about his new transfer to Texas. He was hoping to get into law school somewhere in the area, preferably San Antonio. It was only natural to follow-up with an inquiry about what sort of work he had been doing.
USMC Explosives Ordnance Disposal
John was home from Iraq for a couple of weeks following a 16-month deployment working with an EOD unit. He was in the process of becoming a former US Marine.
His answer drew an immediate “Wow!” response from me, verbally and physically. Then I offered up my fresh longneck in a toast and said, “Thanks for your service.” It was at that point the education began. Or should it be my reeducation continued? Your call.
John winced at my remark, but didn’t leave me hanging with my toast. For the next 10 minutes or so, John did most of the talking. More of a two-way conversation went on another hour and two more rounds that sunny afternoon.
Reminders of that meeting have cropped up several times in the past few days. Words from other veterans like John who wince at those four words, “Thanks for your service.”
Aggies, Astros & Oilers, Oh My!
That’s pretty much the obligatory sports reference this time, though the fact I grew up a fan of all three holds some significance if my self-therapy analysis is correct. It’s impossible to spend 50+ years cheering for those teams without heaping a little pessimism on a person.
Hell, one of those franchises doesn’t even exist any longer, and don’t try to sell me on either the Tennesseefuckintitans or Houstonfuckintexans.
Reading words from vets who hate all of the false patriotism on top of all the death, I could see both sides more clearly, one side being vets who need to keep reminding us all why there’s no need to ever come to war in the first place, the other side being those of us who have learned that the best response might be, “Glad you’re home.” It’s something both sides can work on together.
Even a pessimist like myself can maintain hope any response becomes obsolete. Maybe some kid reads about Memorial Day in a book and asks their parents if they remember when it was a holiday, and the reply will be, “No child, wars were way before your dad and I came along.”
Author: A crotchety old man since his birth during Gen. Eisenhower’s first term as US president, Willie B. Lakey resides in the bee-yoo-tiful Texas Hill Country along with his wife, too many cats and his beloved beer fridge. Employed as an overworked and underpaid freelance sportswriter, his few moments of happiness usually come when communing with critters, tending his garden or sippin’ cold beer and enjoying tunes at Gruene Hall.