Eric Van Fossen

Say what you want about trickle-down economics. Consider this notion about trickle-down gratitude. 

Several weeks ago at the grocery store I noticed an elderly gentleman pushing a shopping cart. He exuded a quiet confidence as well as a sense of solitude. On his head was a deep blue baseball cap with a large “World War Two” emblem on the front. Embroidered on the side was a silver airplane. I did not recognize the type of aircraft it represented.  

I approached this man and held out my hand for a handshake. I leaned in to ensure that he would hear what I had to say. He took my hand as I told him that I was a veteran of not only the Navy, but the Army as well.  Our gentle hand shake continued. I thanked him for his service.  

Our joined hands stopped the traditional up and down movement of a greeting. However, our hands stayed grasped together. Across the generations we were holding hands; the smallest but a most powerful connection. He asked me what I had done in the Navy. I explained that I had been a submarine sailor. He chuckled a bit, commenting that in boot camp he had been cleared to serve on “Land, sea or submarines” and thank goodness he had been assigned to an aircraft carrier.  

I did not recognize the name of the ship he had been on. It was not one of the more famous ones. But he had been there. He had been out there. He had been away from family for what had to seem like a lifetime. No doubt this gentleman had experienced the terror of combat and most likely watched friends die.  

It was a brief encounter. Our hand holding came to an end and we both went about our shopping. I could only hope that I had given him a small gift of gratitude and not inadvertently stirred up memories he would rather not recall on a Sunday morning.  

By personality type I am an introvert. This means I don’t always think on my feet very well. About the time I had loaded the groceries into the car it occurred to me what I really should have said to this man that had given so much to me. Regardless of how old you are, he has given very much to you as well. 

Certainly I should have thanked him for his service. But in hindsight I should have said so much more; because there is so very much more to it. Next time I meet a man of this caliber I will be sure to thank him for the life I have had. My generation and the generations on either side of mine owe that generation all that we have. The opportunities we all have are trickled down and will continue to trickle down through the generations.  

Next time, “Thank you for your service. Everything I have had in my life, my children’s lives and now my grandchildren’s lives is somehow tied back to the hardships you endured so long ago.”   

The rest of it will be unspoken, but the veteran will understand. My gratitude for those which gave the ultimate sacrifice will be relayed to them through his memory of their faces and deeds.  

This gratitude translates to any veteran of any conflict that this country has withstood.   

I am anything but a hero. However, during my tour in Afghanistan I had the honor of walking side by side with heroes. It was life changing.  

You may never have served in the armed forces, but the opportunity to walk side by side with a hero can happen at any time.  

It might even happen at the grocery store.