Bear with me. I have to give a little background to set the stage. Besides, I can’t resist telling a story.

A worn Coca-Cola cap half-buried in the sand

Veterans fought — and died — for corporate profits, not for you.

I’m taking a staycation. I’ve earned vacation time, and can’t afford to go far, so I’m exploring sites in the local area. Since I’m in northeast Ohio, that means a local food tour.  Tonight, my stepdaughter and I went to a local tavern for some really, superbly tasty burgers (I’m a native Texan, so I know of what I speak), and then decided to explore some other local drinkeries on the same block on a beautiful evening.

At the second of these, something interesting happened. A little, stand-alone bar, at least 60 years old, with a wraparound oak bar with brass foot-rail, a few tables, a mini-bowling game and a pool table. Non-smoking inside (pity, that), with a little picnic table with an umbrella outside for the smokers, including myself and my stepdaughter.

Just a few hours ago, at aforementioned picnic table, there sat a young(to me) 40ish man, call him Rick, and his wife, a couple of guys even older than myself, me, my stepdaughter, and three other guys standing around and puffing away while Metallica blasted from the jukebox inside.

We introduced ourselves (Ohioans are very friendly people, mostly) and it turned out that several of us were veterans. We asked the usual questions — what branch, when, which ship or outfit, where. It turned out that two of us, myself and Rick, were in the Persian Gulf during the Gulf War. I was in the Navy, and I had it light and I knew it and said so. Floating around on an air-conditioned destroyer was nothing compared to what the grunts and the jarheads went through.

Rick wasn’t in the Navy. No. He was Army. Straight from Euclid High School to boot camp, specialist training, and then the infantry. Served in the Gulf War and re-upped. Five subsequent tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He rose in the ranks from Private to First Sergeant and got out. He summed up his experiences in South Asia by saying, “I saw some serious shit.”

Then one of the bystanders said, “Thank you for your service.”

I groaned internally. Then I found my eyes locked with Rick’s for several seconds. There was … understanding. Empathy. Then Rick turned to the guy and said, “You don’t have to thank us for anything. There’s nothing to thank us for.” I nodded, and said, “That’s right.”

Then the guy, meaning well I have no doubt, said he did because we were protecting him and everybody else. Rick and I locked eyes again. For once,  I said nothing. I didn’t have to, because Rick did.

Rick told him, and everybody else there, that we weren’t protecting them from anything or anybody in Iraq or Afghanistan. None of those people ever posed any real threat to any of us in America itself, particularly not Ohioans. “Do you really want to know what we were protecting? I’ll tell you. Money. Profits. For people who never, ever, would have gone over there themselves. I’ll name one. Dick Cheney. Halliburton. Do you know how much those … people … charged the Army for a six-pack of Coke?”

Everyone, including myself, shook our heads.

Rick nodded and said,

Twelve bucks, that’s how much. Twelve bucks. Oh, there was plenty of it, and all of the other stuff they sold the Army, but you paid for it with your tax dollars. That’s what we were protecting. That’s who we were protecting. That, and other things like that, is why we were there. It was never about protecting you.

The guy was speechless. He looked like he wanted to say something, but just looked pleadingly at me. All I could say was, “Yeah. He’s right. That’s it. So. You see, you really don’t have to thank us for anything. But thanks, anyway.”

Rick was getting a little agitated. His wife, very gently, took his hand, said they had to go, and they left.

Thank YOU, First Sergeant Rick whatever your last name is, from Euclid, Ohio, for telling the truth.

Photo by Frank Douwes released under a Creative Commons license.