Rain came down in sheets, soaking everything it could at this time of year it was not expected. My colleague and I were working the front desk when a familiar face popped in, drenched but smiling. The night before we checked him in, a vagrant traveling up from from Colorado to get to a town nearly an hour further away. He was dressed in a way that made me think of an post-apocalyptic merchant, even sporting a large brim hat full of different decorations. We already knew he was having a tough time ending his journey; the last leg of it was just an hour away but he sat out for three days hoping for a ride to his destination without success. So he had to stay another night to get out of the cold wet, have a shower, and enjoy the indoors for a moment. We knew he was a botanist and had a job waiting for him whenever he was able to arrive and we respected that.
He greeted us with a smile, telling us he sold some of his jewelry to pay for a night—at first we thought he meant personal items but no, we discovered he had actually made very beautiful works. He lifted up a small plastic briefcase-like thing, and as he opened it, I could only see a small amount. My colleague though was staring right into it. He saw the beauty of them, he pulled a few out even. They were things you would find in shops, yet here they lived in a small case carried by a vagrant just looking to be warm for a night. All of a sudden I hear my co-worker say, “That real...? Whoa...”And the guest's face went into a distant sadness and replied, "A long time ago yes," and closed the case with a specific piece in hand, and offered it to him, a gift for lowering the price night before. They bantered about him taking a moment before he finally accepted the gift. My colleague looked saddened himself and I figured it was the gift and looked at me. I changed the rate even more to make it cheaper. The guest, nearly in tears, thanked us and said the gift was not for that but for the service to the country (in a moment). The guest went on his way to his room excited about another night out of the cold and my colleague turned to me to explain.
The guest had two things in that case, tucked under the foam (which I couldn’t see); both are given to Navy SEALs. And he knew they were not fake, he himself served as a Marine for eight years, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I was not aware he was speaking to the guest about it the night before—and never once spoke about his own service to the country, never asked for a military discount, nothing. It saddened my co-worker something fierce because it brought up not only memories of when he first left the service, but also how VETs are more or less treated when they leave.
This man never bragged, never asked for special treatment, he merely just needed time out of the cold till he could get to where he was going, working along the way for a better job awaiting his skills as a botanist. This man who served our country was living out of a backpack and couldn’t even get a lift. Something I would have done if I had a car myself.
I tell this story to illustrate how we treat our vets, how we claim patriotism and support yet the men and women who serve often end up working minimum wage jobs and even to get that can be a nightmare at times. My colleague told me how he had to settle for a kitchen job at a pizza joint and I cannot even imagine that, for a man who served his country with honor, to have to feel that low about himself. We need to do more for our military when they retire. They are the unheard heroes. We as a society should be ashamed for allowing our government to use these men and women. They are not toys, they are humans, often extraordinary, skilled, and suffering. I myself was named after a great uncle who suffered PTSD from Vietnam and committed suicide on the day I was born. Why? Because he had nothing left—he was too afraid to be with his own family, in fear of having an episode and harming them or worse. He died alone, frightened and by his own frightened hand. Neither this nor the former Navy SEAL guest are once off stories. It is a plague among us in which we must fix, and we must force our elected government to do it; to give back to those who gave us a piece of them so we could sleep safely into the night.