I wasn’t sure what to think, but I watched, wondering how it would unfold.
The scene I’m thinking about occurred six years ago, when I was sitting outside a Starbucks in the town of Roanoke Rapids, over in the eastern portion North Carolina. Pulling into the parking lot alongside me was a guy on a Harley — a gruff looking man, with long bushy beard, wide shoulders and big slabby arms. He wore a plain black helmet, open-faced, with aviator-style sunglasses.
I know Harleys have become the motorcycle of choice for many of the well-to-do in today’s society, but there was a time when they were synonymous with bad men who were to be avoided at all costs, and this guy had the appearance of being a guy you did not want to cross paths with. His demeanor made it look as if he was the real deal, a biker who spent as much time on the road as anywhere, rather than some attorney or doctor playing over the weekend.
On the other side of my car a woman who looked to be in her 40s was pulling her mini-van to a stop. The van came complete with a little sticker on the back window proclaiming the driver’s kids to be honor students, a magnet signifying one of the driver’s kids was involved with a gymnastics team, and another showing one the driver’s kids played Little League baseball.
There was a second window decal on the back — a U.S. Marine insignia.
A young man with crew-cut hair and a disciplined air about him opened the passenger door and climbed from the van. At the same time the motorcycle driver was dismounting his bike. He placed his helmet on the sidebars, stepped upon the sidewalk with his large booted feet then zeroed in on the young man, who was about to step on the sidewalk.
“Hey,” the motorcycle guy said. His voice was rough, gravelly, and there didn’t sound like there was much friendliness in his tone. “You serve in the Marines?”
The young man stopped, straightened to his full height, looked straight into the face of the larger biker, and replied “Yes sir, I do.”
The biker put out his hand, ready to shake hands with the young Marine. “Thank you for your service. I’m buying your coffee today.”
The young man made some protestations about the biker not needing to do so, but this was one battle the Marine ultimately lost.
I think about that scene from time to time, especially when there’s talk of honoring veterans or those who are still in the military. I don’t know who those two gentlemen were, don’t have a clue where they are today. What I do know is that this biker demonstrated a simple, yet heartfelt way to show gratitude and respect to those who serve and have served.
There are plenty of events and services to honor veterans — one went down yesterday in downtown Mount Airy — and those are good and proper ways to honor the nation’s veterans.
But small everyday acts — buying coffee, shaking hands and offering a personal thanks — are probably more powerful than any parade or speech. I hope we all find a way to do that today, and other days as well.
John Peters is the editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1931.