I jingled the change in my pocket. I had exactly one dollar, for a soda at the drugstore. I was supposed to meet my buddies for a pre-movie soda, but everything changed the minute I opened the door.
He was sitting at the counter, sipping a cup of coffee. He wore battered fatigues, combat boots, worn through at the toes, and his left arm was in a bright red sling. When he heard the door jingle as I opened it, he turned to watch my approach warily.
I nodded at him, he nodded back. Gus, the owner of the drugstore, came up to the counter and asked, “What’ll it be Jerry?”
It took me about two seconds. “How much are two cheeseburgers, Gus?”
“50 cents for both.”
“I’ll take two of them Gus, give one to this fella, he looks like he’s full up on coffee.”
“Sure thing kid.”
The soldier turned to stare at me for a moment, then asked, “Why would you do that?”
I shrugged and asked him a question of my own. “Why shouldn’t I?”
He answered. “I just came home from a war that no one believes I ever should have been in. I have been called a murderer, a child killer, been hit, spit on, yet you buy me food when I’m down to my last nickel.”
Just then, my buddies came in the door. They were all sporting fresh buzz cuts, and carried their suitcase in one hand. Tonight was their last night before basic training.
“Because,” I answered, “My brothers here would never let me forget that I didn’t help out one of our own. We still believe in our God and in our country. We still believe then tyranny and oppression are wrong, that it is our job to stand up against it whenever possible.”
For a moment the soldier was silent. Then he stood at attention and saluted. All four of us returned the salute. He sat back down as Gus put a plate with a cheeseburger and a free serving of fries in front of him. He glanced back at Gus, questions in his eyes. Gus cleared his throat, “My boy was these boys age when he went over two years ago. He hasn’t been heard of since his plane was shot down. These boys come in every day and pray with me.”
“It’s not about the change,” I said softly, “It’s about what made the change happen. I didn’t used to care about the war, until Gus’ son, Nick went over and hasn’t come back, until I saw the soldiers like you coming home from fighting for our country and getting treated like dirt. That’s why I changed, I wanted to be like Jesus and put someone else first because that’s exactly what you and men like you did for us. Jesus died for us to save our souls from an eternity in hell. You and the other men I call brothers went to fight oppression and fight for people that couldn’t stand up for themselves. My brothers, here,” I nodded at my brothers standing with me, “joined the Marine corps the day I came home shot up. Not all wounds are visible.”
My friends gathered round me, turned my back to the soldier and lifted up my shirt. The scars from the shrapnel were still healing, and the result was ugly. They put my shirt back down and helped me turn around again.
The soldier sat there for a moment, then stuck out his hand. I shook it, he said, “My name is Jonesy. I’m proud to call you boys brothers.”
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