Why Veterans are Entitled
The Denny’s close to my house was almost empty when I arrived, just before 6 am. Arturo, my waiter, led me to a booth where I could watch the morning commuters as they merged onto a slippery, snowy Highway 6 towards town. He pointed out my choices: any four from the Grand Slam menu, all free, premium extras a bit more.
Damn man. I eat pancakes maybe once every two years.
No sooner did I get my order in and my computer open then two men walked in and headed towards a nearby booth.
“Veterans?” I ventured.
“Yep.” They smiled. A little wary. Sometimes we need to be.
We thanked each other for the service. Jim’s a huge man, ex-flight engineer. Steve is a Navy guy, who promptly pulled out his Dixie Cup (the traditional white hat of the Navy man) which still had his service number printed on it.
“That’s a relic,” we laughed. All of us were of an age, from 66 to 71, old enough to recall when service numbers preceded Social Security numbers.
“I’m going to snack on free food all day,” Jim grinned. “Applebee’s for lunch, let’s see, Chili’s for dinner…”
“Don’t forget the free yogurt,” I offered.
“I’m not much for yogurt,” he laughed.
We traded a few stories. We all tucked into the hot breakfast. Another man walked in and sat down near the door, dirty backpack in hand, which he placed in the booth across from him. He curled his slim body over the table and sank into the seat. No eye contact.
Vet, I thought. But he doesn’t want to join in. That’s okay. As long as he gets a hot meal.
Sometimes the only time a veteran gets a hot meal is on days like this, when some of America’s businesses open their doors to all of us. Some need it a hell of a lot more than others. Jim, whose belly prevented him from slipping into a booth, clearly gets well-fed. The man at the end of the line of booths, not so much. I was glad to see them both, but in truth, more so the guy with the backpack. It was cold outside. The coffee, eggs and pancakes were hot and soul-warming.
Jim and Steve and I yukked it up for a while and talked about how Denver had changed. Both are natives. Jim’s getting ready to head to northern Idaho, which isn’t far from where I’m headed. Or hope to.
We both grew up on farms. It’s funny how being military creates an instant family, even though there is inevitable joshing on all sides about the branch we chose. Steve kidded me that he’d have to salute me, and I kidded him about the Dixie cup hat.
We’ve all been through it in here. One way or another, we’ve paid our dues.
Breakfast done, we tipped (we always tip when we get a meal, especially a free one) and shook hands all around. Jim was starting his grazing day, with a long list of places to visit. He’s done his time. He- and Steve and the vet in the distant booth- could all do with a one-day thank you of a little free food in the richest country on earth.
I was reminded of the YouTube video of a young military man asking about a military discount at a fast food place, and another guest, a young woman, attacked him for feeling as though he was “entitled.” In case you missed it:
That video still cranks me, if for no other reason than people take their freedoms for granted. Most have no idea how many military families have to rely on food stamps. Many have no idea how many military families can barely pay the rent.
Most have no idea what it’s like trying to adjust back to civilian life, where people like the young woman above attack people like us who willingly signed over our lives and bodies and futures to a government that can, at any time, put our young selves out as cannon fodder because of a Presidential pissing contest.
All that self-righteous anger for what might be a dollar discount on fast food.
Hardly. Entitled might better describe people who take such freedoms as their right, without ever having traveled to or experienced countries which operate under brutal regimes, where the idea of intellectual property is a joke, and being able to do what you want when you want to is a distant dream. Where speaking your mind invites the unspeakable.
We have our country in part because of vets like Jim and Steve, the guy in the booth, myself and millions like us who gave the American government the agency to do what it wished with us, as it saw fit, to protect what we all hold dear. That would be baseball games and football playoffs and freedom of speech, the right to worship as we wish, to start a business and copyright our work, and to move where we want across the country without having to produce papers at the whim of any jackbooted thug in charge.
That most people never stop to think about such things is part of how we in the military have been able to make all that a fact of life for Americans. Those rights are often invisible, accepted, assumed. As they should be. We military past, present and future have ensured that for the most part you haven’t had to think about whether you need to worry about speaking your mind.
A free meal, a military discount, a little respect once in a while for what we gave for others’ freedoms are small prices to pay indeed. Far too many never made it home. Many more came home in pieces, mentally and physically.
They are still fighting wars, but on different fronts.
We owe them all a lot more than a hot meal, or a dollar discount. We owe them our very lives.
Far as I’m concerned, Jim can chow down all he wants today.
I hope he enjoys himself.