Just a few years ago I needed some new white sox. I usually purchase a dozen pairs all the same just so I still have some “pairs” when one sox gets eaten by the laundry monster. That whole minor tragedy situation is averted that way. Experience has taught me that, unlike men, not all white sox are created equal. Some brands are funky and get stretched out so they won’t stay up after just a couple washings. Everybody hates sox that sag! It’s just plain annoying. I avoid that disappointment by purchasing only a couple of pairs to start off with, give them a couple of wash & wears, and if they hold up, I head back to that same store a few weeks later to purchase the remainder of my dozen, and hope that the store still carries that brand.
So off I went to our local department store (there is a Kohl’s in this location now) to acquire my initial white sox test sample. I’m like most guys. I don’t shop unless I absolutely have to do so! I could see right through the soles of all of the remaining pairs in my sox drawer, so I HAD TO GO! This was August, and it gets pretty hot here in the Central Valley town of Lodi, California where I live. That’s why I chose to go this store. Their parking lot has deep shade from dozens of big trees and you can come back to a cool car even on the hottest of days.
I had just stepped out of my car when I heard “Hey Buddy”. I turned to my left and I saw a man in a wheelchair rolling towards me. He was about ten years older than I, with shoulder length, stringy and greasy brown hair. There was couple of days of scraggly beard growth on his face, and he wore a tattered olive-drab U.S. Army fatigue shirt and some blue jeans. The legs of the blue jeans were knotted and dangling off the seat of the wheelchair. I could see that both of his legs had been amputated above the knee.
He said to me “Hey Buddy, can you help me out? I’m a Vietnam Vet and I’m trying to get home to Modesto (a town about 40 miles south of Lodi) and my car ran out of gas. My wife and kids are sitting in the hot car. Can you help me out with a couple of bucks?”
The real truth of the matter was, I was just barely surviving financially myself. I had just
started my transition to become a science teacher but had not landed a regular position
yet. I was surviving on substitute teacher pay, which isn’t very much when you have 50 % custody of four kids, a mortgage, all of the normal bills, and alimony/child support payments on top. You can see why purchasing some white sox for me became a major financial decision.
My older (now late) brother was a Vietnam Vet, so without hesitation, I said “Sure”. I reached in my pocket and handed him a couple of bucks. He said “Thanks” and went on his way as I headed into the store.
About a month later I had determined that the few pairs of white sox that I had purchased were a quality product, so I headed back to the store to round out my dozen pairs. As Yogi Berra used to say “it was like Deja Vu all over again”. Exactly the same thing happened to me as soon as I stepped out of my car. The same guy in the wheelchair rolled over to me, dressed the same and said to me “Hey Buddy, can you help me out? I’m a Vietnam Vet and I’m trying to get home to Modesto and my car ran out of gas. My wife and kids are sitting in the hot car. Can you help me out with a couple of bucks?”
Instantly, I realized that I had been scammed by this guy a month earlier.
Do you know what I did?
I reached in my pocket, pulled out a couple of bucks, handed it to him, and asked him “Will this help?”
Why did I do that?
I still had legs. I feel that is truly a crime that this man had to do this to survive. I do believe that he really was a Veteran. Perhaps there may have been other things that he may have done to exacerbate his situation, but in the end, it didn’t matter, I still had legs. There was no need to embarrass this man. Being handicapped, for whatever reason cannot be an easy life. A little bit of compassion can go a long way in this life. I have told this true story the students in my classes over the years, and to my own four kids. My oldest son is now serving in the Peace Corps. Maybe some of this has rubbed off.
The next time a friend of yours is whining about how far they have to walk to get to the front door of the store because they have all those “Dammed Handicapped parking spots Right Up Front!”, why don’t you step up to the plate and remind them how difficult their life might be if they did not have legs. Being a teacher, I am accustomed to talking to high school kids. Recently I spoke up to couple of young guys who pulled their flashy new ride into the handicapped spot without a sticker. I said “You know, it might be a guy from your high school that lost his legs from an IED in Iraq or Afghanistan who needs that Handicapped Parking spot.” They moved their car.
The reason that this event came to mind recently is because I was going for an exercise walk in my neighborhood when I stopped to chat with a couple of my neighbors. I told them that I was just about to publish Susan Gun Vice Cop The Book, and one of them loaned me a book that he thought I might be interested in reading myself. My neighbor is an Iraq War Veteran. I did not recognize him until he told me his name. The last time I saw him, he was that skinny kid in the neighborhood who used to play in my house with my sons when they were kids. Now he is obviously a full-grown 24-year-old man.
Iwo Jima: Red Blood, Black Sand, Pacific Apocalypse, is the title of the book he loaned me. It is the auto-biography of Charles W. Tatum, an 18-year-old U.S. Marine from Stockton, California who survived this ordeal in 1945. He fought alongside Guadalcanal Medal of Honor & Navy Cross recipient, Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone when he was killed in action on Iwo Jima. Mr. Tatum’s book was one of five that were used for research on the recent HBO Mini-Series: The Pacific. He was also featured in the Mini-series. Just recently I finished reading his auto-biography, and I was so impressed with what he had survived, and that there are very few surviving WWII veterans still alive, I located him. Mr. Tatum, a true living legend, was kind enough to spend about a half hour talking with me one-on-one. This is an honor that I will never forget. I gave him a copy of Susan Gun Vice Cop which he was very interested in reading as his son is a retired Stockton Police Officer.
I hope that you will take time to remember the sacrifices that Veterans of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have made for our country this November 11th. If you are one of those 99 Percenters out there protesting right now, please thank that Veteran, as they are the ones who have defended and secured your right to make that protest in our country. Chances are that they might be standing right next to you.
Kevin E. Mc Donald
Susan Gun Vice Cop The Book
Paperback $7.95, E-Book for Kindle, Nook, I-Pad, PC $2.99