Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lunch With The Humble US Marine

(So sorry, but due to the heavy rain, the severe thunderstorms of Monday/Tuesday,
the 7+ inches rain around here, my home's electric has been Off, until earlier today sometime.
Sorry for my unexpected absence...

Danged Global Warming...!

Happy Saint Patrick's Day, too~~)

I had the best time today at work, strangely enough. Between stops to be specific.
After my routine, scheduled Stringtown, Ok. casino stop this morning, I wheeled into
the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Atoka, Oklahoma, for a bite of lunch, and almost immediately
regretted it, as the line for the buffet was several people long already,
and the amount of fried okra appeared too small.

As I got into the other line to purchase my plate and drink cup- haha,- in walked
this U.S. Marine Sergeant, and got in line behind me. As we both stood there waiting
to order, I turned around to acknowledge him, his uniform, the stripes on his shirt sleeved
arms, to thank him for his service to our Nation, and to me personally.

He thanked me back, in words and with a handshake that really hurt.

We took the same routes, through the cashier, then the buffet line and then the drink station
(which was out of Sprite). I had already sat down at a smallish table for two near the drink station, had unfolded my napkins and stripped my straw of it's sanitary paper when this Marine stopped and asked if he could sit with me.

As he stood there, asking me if he could sit at "my" table, I marveled that he would even HAVE to ask.

"Please," I said, showing him the seat opposite me, gesturing with my hand.

This sergeant set his tray down, then slid into the seat. The Marine grasped the tabletop first,
and seemed to swing, pivoting his bent body down into the seat. The Marine began unpacking his meal as I had, tending first to his napkins, then to his straw, putting his red tray to the side, atop mine.

I began the conversation, since he was guest at "my" table: "Is there an Atoka Marine Corps. recruitment office?" inquiring essentially why, why was he here in this otherwise boring place.

"No, I've been up to McAlester High School to be at a Career Day assembly. I'm stationed at Durant, to the Recruitment office there."

"Oh? Have any luck, did you sign up anyone?" I asked him.

"No, I don't 'sign up'. That's not the procedure. I talk to anyone who's interested in the Marine Corps., who's looking for a way for paying for college, or about a career in the Corps."

"So did you have a booth, a table or something, there?" I asked him.

"Yeah. A table. And I brought the Marine banner." was his short answer.

We both began to attack our fried chicken, before other words were spoken.
I noticed that his name was "Woods" as we ate, as we looked around, and outdoors,
in the awkward early moments of eating a meal with a stranger.

"Any luck? Any prospective recruits?" I managed to say.

"Ummh, maybe. I handed out about 20 brochures, and I spoke with four guys pretty seriously, who were really interested in the Marine Corps," he replied.

Our conversation, abrupt and expectedly superficial, continued like this; I asked him if that result was more or less than usual, he asked me if I had ever been in the military.

I learned from Sgt. Woods, that he is from Greeley, Colorado, that he is 30 years old, that he has had two tours of duty/service to America, in Iraq. And that due to injuries he suffered during his last duty, in Falujah, Iraq, he was currently assigned to the Marine Corps. recruitment office in Durant, Oklahoma.

"The 'Fight for Falujah'?" I asked, suddenly very interested, and suddenly very apprehensive.

"That's what everyone in the States called it; we called it 'the extermination'". he replied, looking me straight in the eye.

"That did seem to be the turning point in the Iraqi war", after laughing nervously; I managed to feebly say.

"Man, it was awesome, dude... The Falujah townspeople welcomed us into their town, excited for the United States to be there, to rid their town of al-Qeada" Woods stated. Sgt. Woods went on to tell me about his unit, his responsibilities, the Marine attack and their presence in that city in Iraq.

My chicken, my okra became ice cold and unnoticed, as I sat there listening to this American hero tell that, his story . Woods' injury to his left leg and hip required three surgeries, and a bone graft back home here at Walter Reed, a result of an IED (a roadside "Improvised Explosive Device"), and then he had three months of recuperation at home in Greeley, before being first re-assigned to a Phoenix, Arizona recruitment office, then to the Durant, Oklahoma area recruitment office, in February, 2007.

Suddenly feeling so small and so tiny, I asked him about how he is doing, physically, now.

"You saw me walk in here, dinja ya? I'm getting along great! No crutches necessary!" Woods said to me, a clear air of proud success, his clear,confident and friendly, buddy-ship in his voice.

"No, uh, not really," I said, my mind racing through every moment of the two memories that I had of his walking into the KFC, his passage through the buffet line, of his sudden presence at "my" table.

"I've had my whole hipjoints replaced," he told me, as nonchalantly as if he had only just slipped and fallen on ice. "The surgeons replaced my ass, and patched up my left leg with the bone-marrow grafts...".

I sat motionless, I sat there motionless and uninterested in my meal.
I sat there, in this hero's presence speechless. Somewhere in me, I realized that I was the luckiest man in Oklahoma at that moment.

Woods had made that moment of discomfort for me, then he broke it-- "I wish this place served beer with lunch, or better yet, had a bar... don' you? I like good whiskey, before a big meal... don't you?", his slanted, grinning look up to me, with a jovial, familial tone.

Caught unawares and denuded by that question, I think I answered something like "Uh, yeah, I, I like, uh, some whiskey some is good, uh,.. Jack Daniels Black Label...favorite" is all that I recall saying, in a stupor that no whiskey could equal; mixed of pride, honor, embarrassment, curiosity, more honor, and this sudden camaraderie.

I also remember Sergeant Woods asking me about my military service, about what I did for a living 'now'--.

I told him that I never served the United States, why, and then what I do for a living-- all the while trying to make my experience somewhat equal to his: Comparing my being fired last year to his lifelong bodily injury, all the while emphasizing my love for America to his. Pathetically.
Our intersection lasted half-an-hour, maybe. I've no idea. In instances like this, time acts really strangely to me. Were we there for one minute, or there together for hours? Time became far-less-than secondary, as did my meal at the Atoka KFC.

What mattered was that I was with an American hero, who chose to share lunch with me, at the Atoka KFC.

When we both had finished our meals, he told me "I'see ya late, thanks alot, man", as he rose from his seat, this time clearly with a struggle, without any ease of motion, I saw. Woods took his tray and his wastepaper to the trashcan with a very noticeable limp, favoring his left side now.

I was done as well, and so I followed him now, to that same "'THANK YOU" swinging-lidded trashcan', and then across the foyer to the exit.
He WAS limping, swinging his left leg from his hip, then planting his leg as a step, then continuing. Continuing. Continuing onward, out the door to his vehicle.

I watched him all the way, him walking to his car, before I dared to step into my truck parked nearer to the KFC's side-door. Instantly, Woods became my best friend. My best friend walking to his car parked in Atoka's KFC.

We met once again later today, Sergeant Woods of Greeley, Colorado, and I, along Highway 75 South; I passed him, and I waved to him, and I saluted him afterward, through my truck's back glass-- he waved back to me, and blinked his headlights. I kept him in my rear view mirror all the rest of the way into Durant, when I had to turn off.

I made a seriously good, tremendous friend today. One whom I hope to see, to visit again.

Only,,,, Sgt. Woods was already a friend to me, to us all, years earlier.


Anonymous said...

Good For You, Good Of You, taking the time and effort to eat with one of our military. Theiryre all heros to me.

The Localmalcontent said...

Well thanks; I don't think that I did anything outstanding, that some other appreciative American wouldn't, in the same situation.

Take care!