Walked by my neighbor’s house this weekend, as I often do. His house is on the corner right by the jogging path, so I take the dogs that way 5-6 times a week. And Ralph’s usually out there, doing something or doing nothing. Sometimes he’s pushing his lawnmower back and forth, or otherwise taking care of his immaculate lawn. Sometimes he’s pulling the golf cart into the garage, after getting in eighteen holes. And sometimes he’s just sitting in the driveway, half in the sun and half in the shade, sipping on his Jack and Coke, playing with his cat Smokey, and saying howdy to everyone who walks or drives by.
(This is Peachtree City, Georgia, the golf cart capital of the free world, so you can actually “say howdy” to someone who drives by.)
Ralph flew bombers in WWII and served as a squadron commander in Korea. So you do the math on how old he is. If I’m pushing a lawnmower at his age, let alone teeing them up on a regular basis, then things are good.
And more times than not, Ralph asks me how things are going, “what’s the news from the Fort?” as he says, and asks what I’ve heard from the AOR.
“It’s a tough one y’all are fighting, yessir, a tough one to figure out” he says. “Not like the ones we fought. Ours were easy. Sure, we were gone for four years straight, with no phone calls or that internet contraption to keep us in touch with the family back home. I read about these video link ups and internet message boards and international cell phones. And care packages that would make every day seem like Christmas. What was that one the other day, the folks in South Carolina mailing air conditioners to soldiers in the desert?
“So sure, y’all have it nice in some ways… but still… I wouldn’t trade places with you on a dare. My wars were easier to fight. You knew who the bad guys were, and you were pretty much free to do whatever it took to get them before they got you. I’m not sure how the kids out there keep things straight in their heads over there, not sure at all.
“And my wars, you knew how they were going and when they were over. You could draw lines on the map that meant something, and you could measure how far the front moved. And then someone signed a declaration, someone signed a surrender.
“This one’s not so clean, and I’m a-guessing they never will be again, will they?
“So tell them all ‘thanks,’ willya? And thank you for all you’re doing. I can sleep well at night knowing y’all are out there.”
How about that? This guy fought two wars, spent six years on foreign soil, freed Europe and all that, and he says “thanks” for my half year in Kuwait.
And we wonder why they’re called the Greatest Generation?
But that’s not what he was thanking me for, and I’d be 100% cynic (and not just 3/4s) if I really thought that. He’s thanking me just for raising my right hand some 22 years ago. After that it’s all details. Comparing wars and comparing service is like comparing your children. None of us picked the conditions or the time or the place.
So in the spirit of Ralph, I pass along his thanks and add my own. For those of you eight time zones away right now, stay low and try to bring them all back.