OPINION: Say “Thanks” to a Veteran Today
"You think you know, but you don't know."
Longtime New Orleans Saints fans will recognize that phrase. Former Saints head coach Jim Mora once directed that line towards a reporter who asked a question about locker room issues, a question to which Mora didn't take kindly.
Sometimes, those of us who work in the news, myself included, think we know about what's going on in our world and with the people who live in our communities. On occasion, a chance encounter with a total stranger will make us realize that we, in fact, have no idea about the struggles some of our brothers and sisters battle.
For example, I thought I knew the struggles local veterans face in a regular basis. After all, we in the news report on veterans' health issues on a fairly regular basis. I personally know people who served in the Armed Forces, including people who served in the Middle East. I thought I understood their challenges.
On Tuesday, I learned that I truly didn't know.
My fiancée and I were eating dinner at Texas Roadhouse. The man sitting next to us overheard my conversation about nearly winning a hefty sum on DraftKings the night before until a few late touchdowns decreased my prize from the five-digit range to two digits. That man interjected with a laugh and said he too had had a rough night on DraftKings. Then he rubbed in the fact that he had won $2,500 on the daily fantasy app last year.
The man then asked us how to get to Target on Louisiana Avenue. He said he was originally from the area, but he had just recently moved back after being away for almost 20 years. We gave him the directions.
The fiancée then noticed his jacket. It identified the man as a veteran. We thanked him for his service.
We introduced ourselves. He said his name was Joseph. He mentioned that he's a graduate of Cecilia High School, Class of 2003. I asked him if he ever played any sports under legendary coach James Waguespack. He said he never played for Coach Wag, but he said he played baseball.
I then asked him who his coach was. That's when the conversation turned serious.
"I don't remember," Joseph said. "I don't remember much after the bomb."
You see, Joseph served in the Middle East. He was part of a unit that was struck by a bomb while on duty. That blast permanently affected Joseph's memory.
"I have relatives I grew up with, and I don't know who they are," Joseph explained. "I was in the room for my second child's birth, but I don't remember anything about it. I was there! I can't recall it. That's sad, man."
He didn't say if his unit was struck by a roadside bomb or some other explosive device. What he did say put a tear in my and my fiancée's eyes.
"I survived, but many of my podnahs didn't make it out alive," Joseph told us. "I'm blessed to be here."
We asked him where he was living now that he was back in Acadiana. He mentioned that he would soon be moving to Opelousas thanks to the generosity of people in the community.
He told us someone with a local agency (I forget what group he said it was) rang his phone out the blue with an offer he couldn't refuse.
"Someone called me one day and asked if I was still looking for a house," Joseph said. "They told me they had a house that they wanted to give me."
He was bewildered when he found out that they truly wanted to give him that house at no cost. He accepted that offer and will be moving in once renovations are completed.
Joseph then collected his check and left. We thanked him again for his service as he walked away from the bar.
I turned to my fiancée and said, "I needed that."
Why? Because it reminded me that the men and women of the United States Armed Forces have sacrificed more than we will ever know to protect this country. That encounter reminded me that every single person who lives in this nation owe a debt of gratitude to those who served in the military, especially to those who sacrificed their bodies, their minds, and their lives for this nation.
So today, say "thank you" to a veteran. You can do that by making a donation to a veteran's organization, by dropping off an item at the UL Water Ski Team's Stuff the Boat event at Rouse's on Bertrand, or by simply picking up the phone and calling a veteran in your life.
It's the least we can do to honor those who have sacrificed themselves to protect the rest of us.