My wife and I were already in high spirits on a Friday morning in Augusta, Georgia. Our oldest son would be graduating from dental school in a morning ceremony, and we had driven to a local McDonald’s for breakfast, before meeting the rest of our family at our son’s condo.
When we went inside, my wife walked on to the restroom and I waited in line to order. I looked over to my right and there was this young soldier, wearing his camouflage uniform, standing in another line.
Every time I see a soldier out in public, I have the urge to walk up to him/her and say, “Thanks for your service.” If I act on my urge quick enough, I can avoid getting a lump in my throat. If I don’t act quickly enough, it’s all over because, by then, I’m in a full blown patriotic emotional state — can’t talk.
On this particular Friday morning at this McDonald’s in Augusta, the lump in my throat was immediate. I had no time to decide what to do. There this young soldier stood, with a clean-cut, all-American image, and every mother’s son.
When my wife came to our table and sat down, she smiled and said, “I’m going to pay for that soldier’s breakfast.” She had some money in her hand, I gave her some more and off she went.
I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I could see him smile while shaking his head. My wife told me later that he said, “You don’t have to do that.” My wife talked him into taking the money, then came back to our table and sat down.
Minutes later, as the young soldier was leaving the restaurant, he looked back at her and mouthed, “Thank you.”
We both sat there, not saying a word. My wife had tears in her eyes, and she could tell I was choked up. I could picture either one of our two sons in that uniform, hundreds or thousands of miles from home and far away from his family and friends.
The young soldier had told my wife he was from Newport News, Virginia.
Later that morning we moved on to our scheduled event, our oldest son’s graduation from the dental school at the Medical College of Georgia. As usual, the anticipation builds for something like this and, as a proud parent, you find yourself looking back. We had watched him grow from a new second grader who, on his first day, had looked in the back of his math book and discovered a whole new scary world of uncharted territory. That resulted in two weeks of nervous stomachs for everyone, child and parents!
At the graduation ceremony, as our son moved closer to the front of the line, I was thinking this is part of our family history, and I thought of the nights that he would study for an exam until 4 in the morning, sleep for an hour and then study some more before going to class.
There was our son, Dr. Simpson, right before our eyes!
In a period of three hours we saw a young soldier, far from home, who appreciated a random act of kindness from two strangers, and a young dentist, who has always made us proud, starting the next phase of his life. One event was scheduled, the other was a bonus. I will always cherish both.
Rich Simpson is a former LaGrange resident and a LaGrange High graduate who worked 42 years in radio. He may be reached at [email protected]