Recently, driving home from visiting my family in Connecticut, I pulled into the truck stop on Rte. 22 and I-90 in New York. Sitting in front of the building on the ground was an older gentleman (my age), somewhat unkempt, with a sign “I-90 west – Cleveland.” He only possessed a small bag of belongings and was wearing a baseball cap with the 25th ID (Infantry Division) patch on the same. In that he was only wearing a T-shirt, the “ink” on his arms revealed his reverie for the military (Army) and his participation in the Vietnam conflict. He was obviously down on his luck. As I walked by him I said hello, referring to him as brother, to which he acknowledged with a slight grin and a nod.
I went in and “took care of business” and ultimately gravitated to the Dunkin Donuts located there as well. As a retired police officer, there is a definite affinity for this entity. I ordered two large coffees and two “old fashioned” donuts. When I went out I returned to the 25th ID vet and handed him a coffee and one of the donuts. He got up and thanked me. When asked, he indicated he was going to Cleveland because he has a son who he had not seen in many years. I handed him a $20 bill, telling him I hoped this would help a little. He was extremely thankful and with a smile on his face he shook my hand, indicating his name was Bill.
As Bill and I continued talking….I was asking him if he was receiving help from VA….a biker who had been standing nearby approached. He was obviously someone in my previous profession I would have possibly had contact with. He was an “outlaw” “1%er” as indicated by his “ink”. However, he was a Vietnam vet. He took out a $20 bill and gave it to Bill, indicating that we were all brothers and had to help each other. After we exchanged hugs, handshakes, and some small talk, he walked away. I told Bill that when he gets to Cleveland go to a local American Legion post and seek out the service officer, who would be able to help him. I gave him my card and told him to call if he needed assistance in locating a Legion post once he gets to his destination. I also gave him my Vermont American Legion Centennial Coin for which I received another hug, and at which time, he had tears in his eyes. As we were saying our goodbyes and I was wishing Bill well, a young man walked up to us. He indicated he had been listening and that both he and his wife were “new” veterans. He indicated that they were on their way to Rochester and he wanted to help by giving Bill a lift that far, if he wanted it. Bill was ecstatic. We again said our goodbyes and hugged and I then watched as Bill left with his new friends. I went and sat in my car for a while, as I decompressed from this emotional encounter.
I would not have told this story were it not for what was to follow. Weeks after my encounter with Bill, my cell phone rang one evening. I almost didn’t answer it, due to an out of state area code, and being sick of telemarketers. However I did, and immediately recognized Bill’s voice. He was amazed at all the help he had received along his journey from Maine to Ohio, and that he had met with his estranged son as well as his family, to include his grandchildren for the first time. He indicated he was now in Parma, Ohio. He spoke about the help and direction he received from a local American Legion post, after he had shown them the coin that he received from a friend he met on his journey.
This story isn’t about me, or even Bill. It is about caring, and about veterans helping veterans, and the power of taking the time to show compassion. There are a lot of “Bills” out there that need our help, individually and collectively. We all must do our part. And I cannot express the incredible exhilaration and warmth I felt in being able to help someone, particularly in light of getting feedback, that all is now going well in his life. I hope everyone gets the opportunity to feel that someday. It was truly spiritual and overwhelming…. I cannot wait for Bill’s next call.