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Don’t Forget the Vet

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Joseph M. Bystedt
  • 934th Maintenance Squadron
There's a story I heard many years ago that has resonated with me. The facts have become blurry over time and quite frankly I'm not sure if it was based on a real person or not. That being said, the moral of the story has stuck with me. The story went something like this:

Many years ago a group of Air Force Academy cadets were doing what they've always done, going to school and learning how to become leaders. Back then, as now the cadets lived communally. Each group was assigned a custodian to clean their quarters. This particular group knew their custodian's name (let's call him Jimmy) and very little else about him, they were polite and friendly to him but they had mountains to climb and concerns of their own so their custodian became part of the scenery of their lives.

One day in a military history class they were learning about Congressional Medal of Honor winners and oddly, the name of their custodian was on the list. It was a fairly common name so most of the group didn't think anything of it. But one of them was curious and started talking to Jimmy more frequently. Turns out he was a WWII vet (who wasn't amongst his generation), but like many vets who've seen things they'd rather forget he wasn't very forthcoming about his experiences. Finally the cadet asked Jimmy if he'd won the CMH, he had. Word spread throughout the academy. Jimmy became something of a celebrity. He enjoyed his job and saw no reason to seek a change in his life but the respect and deference that was paid him by these kids made a real difference in how he perceived himself. He found himself walking a little taller and moving about with a greater sense of purpose. An elderly gentlemen, working for very little money in a menial occupation, yet he was blessed with valor and honor beyond what most people, even those who'd chosen to pursue a military career, could have fathomed.
It just goes to illustrate that courage, and honor, and selfless dedication can be found in some very modest places.

Next time you're a little frustrated with the driver who may not be in as big a hurry as you or the gentleman on the next barstool who may take his time getting to the point. Try a little humility and give them your patience and attention, they may well have earned it.