Helen Gibbs Pohlot

Patriotic acts of kindness often go unnoticed by the average person.  Sometimes it is just the giver and the recipient who see it.  Yesterday an encounter at a Key West, Florida store, took me back to the time I first observed the unforgettable combination of patriotism and kindness in action.
It was several years ago, when my 84-year-old mother and I went into WAWA, a convenience store located in Whiting, NJ. Lunch crowd customers filled the store, but we were hungry for coffee and donuts.  We waited in line for about 15 minutes to pay for our food.  Standing right behind us were four members of the military, who had sandwiches, drinks, soup, snacks and desserts.

My mother struck up a conversation with them as they happily told her about their families, where they were from, and their area of military expertise.  She knew more about these young men in 15 minutes than most people would learn in a year.  The soldiers responded to Mom’s questions with respect and humor.  It was obvious that they enjoyed talking to her.

I went to pay for our donuts and coffee, but my mother stopped me.  “Put your money away,” she said in a tone that I knew not to argue with.

Immediately after the cashier rang up our purchase, Mom turned to the somewhat frazzled woman and said, “Miss, I would like to buy lunch today for these four young soldiers.”

The cashier lost her edge and broke into a big smile, saying, “By all means, Ma’am.”

The four soldiers turned and thanked my mother profusely as they put their food on the counter.
One young man leaned over and gave mom a big hug.

After my mother quietly paid, we walked outside to the car.  I turned and asked her, “Why did you do that? It was incredibly nice and I was really proud of you.”

Mom looked at me in surprise.

“It is what you do,” she said firmly. “During World War II, every time you saw a member of the military you picked up their check, and that doesn’t change with different wars.  It is about respect, sacrifice and honor.  I have been doing it for years.”

I felt stupid, selfish and downright clueless, because I never paid attention.  My mother’s action that day and countless others after that remain with me each time I see a member of our armed services.

This was never more apparent than in August of 2012.  Mom passed away the month before and despite overwhelming grief I had to go on a business trip to Florida.  I decided to take the train.  With over two hours to wait at the station, I went into a local restaurant.  Seated at a table across from me were five army men.  I instinctively knew what to do.

I summoned the waitress.  “Miss, I would like to pay for the soldiers’ lunch,” I told her.

“Sorry, but that couple over there just paid their check,” she said, pointing to a man and woman who appeared to be in their 80s.

I looked over at the couple and smiled while the words “It is what you do” echoed in my mind.

Then, just yesterday, my mother’s words resounded once again.  I was waiting in line at the Key West Publix’s, a large supermarket.  Two Navy women were in front of me.  When the cashier finished ringing up their groceries, without a word I stepped up and handed her my credit card.  The cashier knew exactly what I wanted to do, charging the card and handing me the receipt.  The two Navy women thanked me warmly.

I thought to myself, it is what you do, and my mother was right.


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