The popular phrase “Thank you for your service” took on a whole new meaning for me this past summer. As the wife of a deacon who served as the chaplain at Calverton National Cemetery, the daughter of a man who served in the Army Air Force during World War II, and the younger sister of a sailor who served during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I wondered what part they played in my actions on July 4, 2019.
As a young girl, I can remember my dad stopping often to pick up any serviceman who was hitchhiking and asking if they needed a ride home or to a train station. I can still hear his voice asking, “Can I help you?” I also recall the many Memorial Day parades I not only watched as a young person but also took my children to see. Usually after the parade I can remember stopping to purchase red poppies from various veterans sitting in front of grocery stores. Sadly, I also recall vivid memories of the many protests surrounding the Vietnam War that I watched on television. One that haunts me is the Kent State University shooting. My recollections of how terrible the men and women who fought in the Vietnam War were treated when they came home are very vivid.
Maybe all of these memories kicked in on this recent 4th of July. I was out trying to find an open pharmacy when I came upon an older man sitting in front of the last one I was going to try before heading home. I noticed he was wearing a baseball cap with Vietnam Vet written across the top.
As I backed my car into a parking spot and looked at the dark pharmacy, I couldn’t help but wonder if this man was actually a Vietnam veteran or simply waiting for someone to pick him up. Walking closer to the pharmacy, it was clear it too was closed. I simply walked back to my car, started it, put it in gear, and began to move forward. The next thing I knew I was lowering the passenger side window and asking the man sitting there if he needed a ride.
His response was immediate. “Yes!” It seemed only a second later and he was in my car, enjoying the coolness of the air conditioning. I asked where he lived and he answered, “Just down the street, number 1039.”
My thought was that sounds close, but as we approached 1039 he seemed confused, and I began to think, What did I do, taking this stranger into my car? I asked him again, as calmly as I could, “I’m sorry, what did you say the address was?” This time he appeared a little more anxious. Hoping to reassure him, as we continued down the street, I simply asked, “Do you live on the right or left side of the street?” I could see him looking at his phone. Suddenly he said, “I live at 911.” I replied, “That’s great, the odd house numbers are on the right.” However, as I continued to drive slowly, I started to realize just how vulnerable I was in this situation.
Imagine my relief when I spotted a mail box with the large numbers of 911. Whew! I would learn later it was a safe house for homeless vets, and was once the convent for the church I had attended for many years.
As the Vietnam veteran departed my car, I couldn’t help but recall one of my favorite Scriptures, “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me’” (Matt. 25:40).
After many years of volunteering for parish Pre-Cana, Marriage Encounter, and a diocesan marriage-in-crisis program, Mary Anne Dejewski decided to return to college. She earned a master’s in social work with a specialization in alcohol and substance abuse from Stony Brook University.