each spring, as the parades
approached, many veterans
would need to update
their uniforms. a small percentage
are Vietnam Veterans
who discarded their awards
in disgust. an accumulation
of time altered their original
conscription, and now wanted to
the veterans of World War II
did not have to confront
the decision their Vietnam brethren had to.
the Greatest Generation watched over decades,
as their uniforms were desecrated
by curious grandchildren.
“i need a belt buckle.”
“a regular web belt for work?”
“No, a Goddamn USMC buckle in all it’s glory!”
my father in law- who owned the Army Navy surplus store
i found myself working in
had bought 120 USMC Dress buckles
at a trade show years earlier.
there were still a few dozen
in our attic stockroom.
“hold on one minute, i’ll be right back.”
i immediately find a
boxed USMC belt buckle,
and head back down the
rickety stairs from the attic,
to the retail floor.
“how much do i owe you, kid?”
“on the house. it’s the least we can do.”
“awww, c’mon kid, i can pay you!”
“hey- didn’t anyone give you something for free today?”
he raised his head to look directly into my eyes.
i thought i could hear his train of thought.
“a free buckle? a free buckle?”
holding the small
he spoke eloquently
“You are making an old Marine proud.”
he then exits the store.
the sound is congruent
everyone in earshot
was aware of what we heard.
i race to the deck outside the store
as customers are dialing 911
on their cell phones.
when i reach his fallen figure, i ask “are you ok?”
“yes, i am.”
a moment later, a police officer arrived as
the first responder.
he walked across the deck
that provides access to the store.
“have you been drinking today?
“no, no, no, sir…..”
the officer plants his hands under
the arms of the Marine Veteran
and gradually brings him
to his feet.
“have you been drinking today?” the officer repeats his question, with
an edge of malice.
i was shocked at the lack of a level of subtlety from the officer.
perhaps they dealt with this “emergency” everyday.
and yet, i decided to speak out:
“hey, take it easy on him….”
the officer held the Marine in the same position and then
slowly craned his neck to look directly at me.
“i’ll let you know when i want you to talk.”
i thought to myself
i would oblige,
and remain silent.
a gathering of EMT’s, firefighters, and police
have gathered at the scene.
they all seem to look at me
with a coordinated
“you couldn’t differentiate a heart attack
from a drunk old man?”