I woke early this morning, and unable to go back to sleep, I grabbed yesterday’s still unread Wall Street Journal and my iPhone, and headed for the Perkins restaurant about 5 miles away.
This Perkins is like all the others. It’s well-lighted, and the coffee comes in a self-serving a carafe thermos so no need to beg for refills. It’s a great hang-out place when not crowded, and at 5:30 this morning only three of its 35 or 40 booths and tables held customers.
Two of those other early risers were an older man and woman in a booth about twenty feet from my own. They looked to be in their late-80’s. My attention had been drawn immediately by the man’s ears. One was complexly missing; the other had a two inch jagged notch removed from it. Their clothing was clean and practical; what city people might call “small town.” The man wore a blue baseball type hat, with the word “ARMY” in front. Under that word was a collection of twelve, three rows of four each, military award and campaign ribbons. As a former Marine I noted that two were from the 1950-1953 Korean war.
The couple were still there an hour later when I returned from the restroom, and I stopped by their booth to ask the man a question.
ME: (I paraphrase) “Good morning. May I ask if you served in Korea?”
MAN: (Nodding) “Yes I was. I went twice. I was hurt after just a few months the first time, and went back. But that was a very long time ago.”
WIFE: (Interrupting him) “Earl was in the army for 37 years. Were you in the army?”
ME: “No. I was a Marine long after Korea. I just recognized the Service ribbons.”
WIFE: (Putting her arm around Earl) “He lost his right ear in Korea before I met him. He was just a boy. He lost a toe too. He says it was so cold that everything froze. He can hear okay.”
MAN: “Korea was a really hard two years. But I got the hole in my other ear fifteen years later in Vietnam. People always wonder about my ears. We live in Ohio now. We’re here to visit our grownup grandkids. Our daughter used to be embarrassed by them when she was young and met her friends. (Laughing) But she now teases and says at least they match.”
ME: (In awe, I could think of nothing more to say.) “Thanks for your service, sir. Nice meeting you both.” (And started to walk back to my booth.)
MAN: (Quietly) “Thank you for asking me about my hat.”