Several years ago, my wife and I were invited to help “chaperon” a troupe of young BYU art history students on a trip to the Getty and Getty Villa in California, and they invited our two older daughters to come along. In Utah it had snowed quite a lot in the morning, and it was a beautiful spring in California, so we drove through all the seasons on our trip.
As we were driving through Nevada into California we came to one of the most awesome Greek restaurants I’ve ever been to, The Mad Greek, in Baker, California. The atmosphere was energetic and fun, the food was truly amazing, and the staff and patrons were happy and enjoying themselves.
A group of rough and ready looking biker guys, really just buddies in their fifties going on a road trip, had come in just a little before us. I made sure my wife, the professor, and our daughters had their food and were on the way to the table, then I was getting the finishing touches on mine. On my way to our table I saw that the professor was visiting with the table of rowdy bikers, and overheard her pleasantly letting them know we had kids with us, and to please tone their conversation down a little. The professor was a little, pleasant blond woman and the bikers were very polite.
When I sat down, she mentioned that they had been getting a little noisy and started using language the she felt wasn’t good for our daughters to hear, and had just asked them to be mindful of the kids in the restaurant, and they had agreed. As we were enjoying our food, I looked over at the bikers and realized the patches on their jackets all showed they served in the same unit in Viet Nam, and they were most likely enjoying a reunion ride.
After a bit, they were letting their excitement being together get the better of them – they were getting louder and behaving less like they were in a family restaurant. Concerned that someone would cause a scene or the manager would kick them out, I walked over to them to tell them what I thought.
“Excuse me,” I said, and they all stopped talking, looked at me and the table I had come from, and it seemed to me that their hackles were raising and they were prepared to be defensive. “I can’t help noticing the patches on your jackets. Were you all together in Viet Nam?”
They nodded and one of them told me the years they served together, and all of them gruffly cheered when he gave the nickname of their unit.
“Well, I can’t imagine what you guys went though,” I began, “but I want to let you know how much I appreciate the fact you did. There were a lot of mixed feelings about the Viet Nam war, but the fact remains you guys went. You served your country and went through who-knows-what, and regardless of what everyone said about that, the bottom line is you guys did that for my family. You and others like you, wherever you are around the world, are willing to stand in the way of the bullets that would hurt my family. You and people like you defend the freedoms that give my country, my family, and my life meaning, and I wanted to tell you Thank you. Thank you very much.” They all nodded and smiled quickly, then looked down at their plates and grew very quiet.
I went back to our table, and my wife and the professor asked what I had said. “Just what I was thinking,” I told them, and we continued eating.
The motorcycle riders finished their meal very quietly, whispering to each other, wiping their noses and eyes, patting each other on their shoulders or arms. After they finished, they quietly got up, cleaned up their table, and filed out of the restaurant to get back on their bikes. The last one out waved at me and said, “Thank you.” Solemnly they all started up their bikes and rode back out onto the highway.
Memorial Day is a great day for a family get together, a barbecue, or swimming in a pool. It is also a good time to remember the men and women in the military. They are willing to protect our freedoms and safety with their bodies, and I am forever grateful. When we get a chance to thank them, we should take it.