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Posted: 12/24/2005 3:08:49 AM EDT
latimes.com

From Heckles to Halos
From the Los Angeles Times

COLUMN ONE
In dramatic contrast to the Vietnam War era, U.S. service personnel now are being treated to strangers' spontaneous bursts of gratitude.
By Faye Fiore
Times Staff Writer

December 24, 2005

There's a diner called Peggy Sue's about eight miles outside of Barstow, and as hard as Lt. Col. Kenneth Parks tries, he can never seem to pay his bill.

He orders a burger and a chocolate shake. But before he's finished, the waitress informs him the tab has been taken care of by yet another stranger who prefers to remain anonymous but who wants to do something for a soldier in uniform.

Many Americans have conflicted feelings about the Iraq war, but not about the warriors. The gestures of gratitude and generosity that occur with regularity at Peggy Sue's — across Interstate 15 from Ft. Irwin, a military desert training site — have become commonplace across the United States.

A spontaneous standing ovation for a group of soldiers at Los Angeles International Airport. Three $20 bills passed to a serviceman and his family in a grocery store in Georgia. A first-class seat given up to a servicewoman on a plane out of Chicago.

These bursts of goodwill have little to do with the holiday season or with political sentiments about the war. In contrast to the hostile stares that greeted many Vietnam veterans 40 years ago, today's soldiers are being treated as heroes throughout the year, in red states and blue, by peace activists and gung-ho supporters of the Iraq mission. The gestures are often spontaneous, affiliated with no association or cause, and credit is seldom claimed.

"It makes you feel great. It may just be a burger and a shake, but it's the thought behind it," said Parks, 41, who has served two tours in Iraq. Stationed at Ft. Jackson, S.C., he goes to Barstow regularly for training.

"My father went over to Vietnam three times, and he felt like he was not respected," Parks said. "Sometimes he felt like he was not even an American. But I see a big difference. I feel we're appreciated. An airport is about the best place for a soldier to be."

That was Sgt. Baldwin Yen's experience when he landed at LAX on Thanksgiving Day 2004. The pilot asked whether the other passengers would mind letting the soldiers on board exit first so they could get home to their families all the sooner. Not a passenger complained. Still in their combat fatigues, the soldiers were assembled in a corner of the airport when a bystander began to applaud. Soon, people were standing up and clapping in spontaneous tribute as far as Yen could see.

"I was kind of embarrassed," said Yen, 27, of West Hollywood. As an Army reservist who wore his uniform only infrequently until he was called to Iraq, he was unaccustomed to such attention. "I'm a slight, Asian man — 5-feet-9 and 140 pounds. People usually didn't think I looked like the military type. But then all these people were standing up. I was touched and surprised."

This is not a nation at war so much as it is an army at war. Service members and their families mostly bear the weight of the Iraq and Afghanistan missions alone — family separations, career dislocation and danger. Many soldiers are serving third tours, and there is no clear end in sight.

For civilians, the chance to directly touch a military member or family can be irresistible, so much so that people break the comfortable anonymity of public places — airports, hotels, supermarkets — to walk up and pat a soldier on the back.

"For probably the first time in American history, civilians are asked to make no sacrifices in a time of war. We don't have a draft. There is no gas rationing the way there was in World War II. There is no increase in taxes; we get tax cuts instead," said Charles Moskos, a leading military sociologist at Northwestern University. "These acts are small ways of showing some recognition, because we're not doing it any other way."

U.S. Army Capt. Alina Martinez was in a grocery store outside Ft. Benning, Ga., with her soldier husband and their 3-year-old daughter last spring. Noticing the haircut, the couple in line ahead asked whether Martinez's husband was in the military. He answered that they both were. The couple thanked them repeatedly for their service and left the store.

Soon afterward, the cashier handed Martinez $60 that the strangers had left for them.

"My husband and I were shocked. He ran out to the parking lot to thank them, but they were gone. The cashier said the couple specifically told her to wait until they had left. They didn't want us to know," Martinez said.

"It wasn't the money; it was the fact that this couple only spoke to us for a couple of minutes, and they were so generous and sincere," she said. "It brought tears to my eyes right in the store."

National sentiment has come a long way since the days when Randall Rigby came home from Vietnam and was instructed by commanding officers to change out of his uniform before going out in public to avoid ridicule. Now a retired Army lieutenant general, Rigby recalled the memory one recent day when he watched a large man give up several inches of legroom in first class to a small female soldier seated in coach.

Although the military takes pride in the family support network it has built, spouses still rely on the kindness of civilians during the strain of separation.

Kristy Cormier traveled to Florida from her home in Georgia so her friend, Jacqui Coffman, could run a 10K race. Both of their husbands were deployed in Iraq, and Cormier found herself in a hotel pool in charge of their combined five children, ranging in age from 7 months to 6 years.

The children began to play with a man splashing around with his twins; Cormier mentioned to him that they probably missed male contact, because their fathers were overseas.

The man "was very generous all morning, catching them in the water…. I must have looked crazy trying to manage them all, and he helped me. It happens often, people thanking us for our service. It's very humbling," said Cormier, 36.

Her husband, Maj. Daniel Cormier, 38, returned days ago from a year in Iraq. He made it home in time for his son's elementary school holiday pageant, where the teacher announced his presence, and the audience applauded.

Charitable and nonprofit organizations, in the tradition of the long-serving USO, have burgeoned since the beginning of the war. There are websites for collecting books to send to deployed troops (www.booksforsoldiers.com), and sites that offer "Take a Soldier to the Movies" packages that include popcorn, candy, a drink and a DVD (www.soldiertomovies.org). Another, (www.fisherhouse.org), tells how to donate air miles to the loved ones of injured soldiers.

Donations have grown steadily. Since it was founded nearly two years ago, the Hero Miles program has delivered nearly 175 million air miles, saving military families an estimated $6 million in travel costs, said Jim Weiskopf, spokesman for the Fisher House Foundation, a Maryland-based charity that supports service members and their families.

Similarly, more than 7,000 DVD packages have been distributed to troops abroad through Operation: Take a Soldier to the Movies. The website was created by Bernie and Kathy Hintzke of West Allis, Wis., a year ago to help support their son and his unit in Iraq.

But the American people have taken charity a step further, bypassing formal groups to help or comfort a soldier or a military family directly.

Celeste Zappala's son, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, 30, was killed in an explosion in Baghdad on April 26, 2004 — the first member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard to die in combat since 1945.

She still receives packages in the mail from strangers: quilts, religious cards, American flag pins fashioned in the shape of teardrops.

"They come from random places, as far away as Kentucky," said Zappala, 58, who lives in Philadelphia and is an active peace advocate. "People who just see my name on the Internet somewhere will pick up the phone to call and tell me they are sorry for my loss. It's really very dear."

When encountering a soldier, people often give and then move on, without leaving so much as a name. In North Carolina, a stranger in a hunting cap instructed a waiter to bring Capt. Jeremy Broussard, 28, anything he pleased. A couple in Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport handed Spc. Adrian Ocampo, 21, a cellphone to call anyone he wanted.

In the Barstow area, the wave of altruism grips with equal passion at the locals at Peggy Sue's and the high rollers who've stopped by the diner on their way to Las Vegas.

Peggy Sue Gabler, who owns the diner with her husband, Champ, has decided it has something to do with the opportunity to care for a soldier immediately and in person. She still remembers the customer who picked up a bill totaling several hundred dollars for a group of 18 GIs.

"You could pass around a tin can that says 'Aid to soldiers,' and people would let it go by," she said. "But if a soldier orders a Philly steak, people just want to pay for it. To be able to do something right at that moment just makes them feel elated."

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times
Link Posted: 12/24/2005 3:14:52 AM EDT
Link Posted: 12/24/2005 3:30:07 AM EDT
And the real reason (not the one the profs are touting in the above article ) is that alot of us are determined to make sure the VN era crap DOESN'T happen again. Both my wife and I do what we can to make sure that is NEVER repeated. The last thing we want our son to come home to is someone calling him a baby-killer or the same shit.

When his unit was mob'ing our local "Peace" activists where protesting the unit. so it is not all light and good from the left as most of us know.
Link Posted: 12/24/2005 5:58:32 AM EDT
Here is my questio I am Joe and both me and my men have been exposed to random acts of kindness. We all appreciate it we just don't know what these people want from us. You spend your life being dirt poor white trash your not used to that kind of respect. We just want to act in a way that says thanks and we are worthy of it.
Link Posted: 12/24/2005 6:34:43 AM EDT

Originally Posted By pbaeod:
Here is my questio I am Joe and both me and my men have been exposed to random acts of kindness. We all appreciate it we just don't know what these people want from us. You spend your life being dirt poor white trash your not used to that kind of respect. We just want to act in a way that says thanks and we are worthy of it.



All they want is for you to know how much you are respected and appreciated. If they see you smile, that's gravy.
Link Posted: 12/24/2005 11:37:00 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 12/24/2005 11:45:45 AM EDT by warlord]
Wildweasel: Yep, the left & liberals are determined to make this OIE/OIF another Vietnam, but many people are not going to let this happen again, me too.

I personally grew up in the town of Barstow as mention in the LAT story, and the towns people there are extremely patriotic. Barstow & Yermo are home of the largest USMC supply depot west of the Mississippi, they have acres and acres of tanks, trucks, artillery pieces, parked all over the Mojave Desert landscape. The town has actually grown right up to the front gates of the base. Also just outside of town, is US Army's Ft. Irwin NTC(National Training Center) where you can actually fire a 105mm cannon at max. elevation and not damage or kill anyone.
Link Posted: 12/24/2005 11:40:26 AM EDT
Yep got into seaworld for free, I think I am going to start drinking Bud just because the support they gave us, free tickets for family friends and 20 percent off food.
Link Posted: 12/24/2005 11:59:26 AM EDT

Originally Posted By warlord:
Wildweasel: Yep, the left & liberals are determined to make this OIE/OIF another Vietnam, but many people are not going to let this happen again, me too.



They want another Watergate too.
Link Posted: 12/24/2005 12:11:41 PM EDT
This is as it SHOULD be!

Link Posted: 12/24/2005 3:20:18 PM EDT
Let me just put this out to all the Vietnam Vets you are the standard by which this generation judges itself by. To be considered an equal is the greatest compliment
Link Posted: 12/24/2005 7:20:36 PM EDT
I have personally eaten a few times at Peggy Sue's for military functions while stationed at Fort Irwin. I can say that the people who own it and who work there are good people. By and large, so are the people who eat in such places. Salt of the earth and hard working, not like many of the liberal asses that live farther south in the LA basin. If you ever find yourself driving past Yermo headed to NV or LA on I-15, stop in for a milkshake as it will be worth your time. I'm partial to strawberry, but YMMV.
Link Posted: 12/24/2005 9:41:10 PM EDT
That article about matches up with what I've experienced in the San Francisco area as well. (I'm in uniform in public a lot)

NTM
Link Posted: 12/24/2005 10:06:00 PM EDT

Originally Posted By warlord:
Wildweasel: Yep, the left & liberals are determined to make this OIE/OIF another Vietnam, but many people are not going to let this happen again, me too.

I personally grew up in the town of Barstow as mention in the LAT story, and the towns people there are extremely patriotic. Barstow & Yermo are home of the largest USMC supply depot west of the Mississippi, they have acres and acres of tanks, trucks, artillery pieces, parked all over the Mojave Desert landscape. The town has actually grown right up to the front gates of the base. Also just outside of town, is US Army's Ft. Irwin NTC(National Training Center) where you can actually fire a 105mm cannon at max. elevation and not damage or kill anyone.



You poor bastard.
Link Posted: 12/24/2005 10:27:31 PM EDT
when im working at my bar a soldier never pays when im on the clock. if bought dinner for them many times as well.


in two weeks ill be a soldier myself so ill just treat myself from now on....
Link Posted: 12/24/2005 10:46:17 PM EDT
Outfuckingstanding!

I'm glad that, while there sure are a lot of people who don't support the war itself, that MOST people support our servicemen and women.

God bless them!
Link Posted: 12/25/2005 7:39:40 AM EDT
My wife paid for three soldiers dinner the other night while she was out with her friends. She just took care of their bill when she did hers and then left. I've got a winner!

Merlin
Link Posted: 12/25/2005 7:59:22 AM EDT
Link Posted: 12/25/2005 8:15:45 AM EDT
I cant believe that story was published in the LAT. What is the world coming to?
Link Posted: 12/25/2005 9:31:20 AM EDT
No free meals but definitely alot of thanks, hugs, and can I/ we take a pic with you when I've done time in the subways. A few have brought a tear to my eye. Picture me: 6' 235#, all decked out in bdus, lbe, gas mask and a 9mm with a tear rolling down my cheek because some little old lady from the midwest wanted to thank me and give a soldier a hug and and told me her husband who passed on was a vet, when she started crying I couldn't help it.
Link Posted: 12/25/2005 10:24:56 AM EDT

Originally Posted By ARDOC:
I cant believe that story was published in the LAT. What is the world coming to?


The L.A. Times will throw us a bone every once in a long, while. Most of the time the paper will bash us whenever, and wherever possible.

The people on this forum is way ahead of the curve on this one. We have been seeing and reporting on this for, what? 2 or 3 years now. The LAT is way behind.
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