I converged on the compact four-door approaching the Kroger parking lot entrance. It slowed, perhaps a bit more than conditions warranted, and the license plate on the Chevy came into focus. “WW II Veteran” lined the plate’s left side.
At first glance, the Chevy driver’s slim, trim face appeared a bit young to be the WW II veteran who owned the license plate. He turned left and parked in a handicapped spot close to the store. I spared a moment’s judgment of a son or grandson using the veteran’s prestige to park up close. That judgment continued as I pulled past and parked much farther down the lane and walked back towards the store.
I passed in front of the Chevy and risked a surreptitious front-faced glance at the driver. Perhaps caution was in order. He could be older than I at first thought. Or maybe he waited for his father to come out of the store. In either case, he just sat, stone-faced, behind the wheel, his age difficult to estimate.
Fifteen minutes later, with about that many items checked out and bagged, I headed towards the door to leave. The WW II veteran, yes, he was the veteran, almost shuffled slowly on his way in, grim face stiffly facing forward. Tell-tale wrinkles gave away his age, but only just. Graying, thinning hair and his slow progress confirmed the estimate. The license plate belonged to this man, this veteran of World War II.
Walking to my car allowed ample time to do the math. The war ended 70 years ago. He was at least 18 in 1945, which meant this veteran carried no less than 87 years on his shoulders, on top of memories of war he may or may not have shared with his wife and children and grandchildren. Did he recall those events more today than when he was younger, as my mother recalled trauma she suffered as a teenager perhaps more acutely after age 80 than before? Did those memories plague him now, while he walked through Krogers, while he tried to sleep at night?
What kind of courage does it take to face those memories, or just to face the aches and pains and imbalances of nearly 90 years of life and drive to the grocery store? The courage which led a generation to defeat Nazism and overcome vicious and powerful enemies on two fronts – maybe it helped him face another day.