Real Happenings: (bear with me this took a bit of work to condense down.) it’s still a bit long.
When traveling I assign a day for a “normal” meal stop. This time it puts me around the Tennesse/Kentucky border. In a town that if you want to find it you have to zoom in more than once on gps just for the name to pull up.
Today was a breakfeast stop and as I walked into this little breakfeast/lunch restaurant an older couple well into the upper years was also coming in. As always I hold the door for them to go first, they both thanked me.
“You are welcome Ma’am and you are welcome sir.” -JT
The man looks back as I follow them in and remove my hat. (This is important) Something I do but have not thought about it in a long time until today.
He turned back to his wife and they are seated, I wait but notice the man looks my way again as the nice waitress guides me to my seat. The old man puts his hand up.
“Will you sit with us young man.” They had sat at a booth but his wife sat next to him not across, so I took the empty space and requested a coffee and we ordered our food.
“You’re not from around these parts?” The Old man begins with a thick accent I can’t replicate here. 😊
“No sir, do I stick out that much?”- JT with a grin
“Yeah but because you have respect and manners, a rarity in people that I meet these days” He pointed to my hat on the table. “Respect and manners are two different things and you clearly have both when you showed respect to my sister-in-law’s diner.”
“Thank you sir but at the same time that’s sad to hear it’s becoming rare. Most people call me JT but my name is Jack.” – JT
His wife looks to him as he glances briefly to her because she’d put her hand on his arm.
“I like Jack, our first child was named Jack.” – Old man
Since he referred to their child in the past tense I did not ask.
He paused for a second as if waiting for me to ask, but I didn’t based on his wife’s reaction to my name.
“I’m Hampton this is my wife Gayle.” -Hampton
“It is pleasure to meet you both.” -JT – shook their hands – his first.
*we talked about what I do for a little bit and they had questions. They found it interesting because they had no idea what dragracing was… so lets jump through this part.
I looked to his hat that he had also removed that was sitting next to mine, it simply said veteran.
“My oldest son is in the Airforce, how long did you serve sir?” -JT
“Too long young man.” He looked to his hat but his eyes changed. – Hampton.
“My apologies sir if that question is not one you want to answer.” -JT
I noticed his wife place her hand on his arm again. He paused for long time before looking up and when he did the gaze did not contain anger but clearly was now full of memories that actually gave me the chills…. then
Our food came….so we ate and talked about other things.
We finished eating and all of us got another coffee. Gayle had just finished telling me about their grandson. Hampton smiled during her stories and he even chuckled when she described all the grandson craziness.
A brief pause … then …
“Young man to answer your question, I have served most of my life, some battles you have heard of and many more no one has ever heard of.” – Hampton
His wife was looking at him, it seemed to me she was a bit surprised as he continued…
“I came from nothing, my family had nothing, and I was an angry young man. The world was a lot different back then and cruel to anyone who did not have status or money. I joined the military because I saw nothing else for me and death was not something I feared. Most days I would have welcomed it but I was filled with so much rage, it would have to come for me.” – Hampton
This would be the only one of two times I would look away from him and this was the 1st, which was to his wife. She was listening as intently as I was.
“The first time I was handed my weapon, I had no idea what the hell I was doing but was trained by men that were nothing but ruthless a**holes. They turned and angry boy into a man and one that was very good at following orders and killing people. I have killed a lot of people young man and have no remorse for any of it. My country looked at me as if I was just a piece of numbered meat.” – Hampton
He does not look away from me but reaches into his shirt and pulls out his dog tags that he still wears. (Only the second time I look away)
“If I died the government would just find another piece of meat to replace me. Once again I had parents that cared nothing for me but unlike before I had brothers standing with me. We would die and kill for each other without question or remorse. Our goal was to get the other one out of this sh*t alive and it did not matter who or what we had to kill to make that happen. Yet when my time came, I re-enlisted and would several more times because it was clear this was the only thing I was good at. I never climbed in rank because someone like me was built to do things most people would not or could not do. I would follow any order even when I did not like the people giving them.” – Hampton
- He shared more but I’m trying to reduce it a bit here….
I only asked two questions during this talk and it was towards the end but I made sure not look away from him. His eyes were hardened and cold and it was not easy to do but this man deserved my attention and respect.
Towards the end of our talk … “What made you stop?” -JT
“I have fond memories with my brothers in arms and would not trade any of these memories for anything but do wish I could’ve brought more of my brothers home. I never knew what I was truly fighting for because all I saw was my friends dying. I would come to realize that I just needed to survive for some ungodly reason. Then later in life I was invited to a wedding of one of my service brothers’ daughters and that is when I met Gayle.”
“At that moment I knew what I had been fighting for and it was to get to her. I walked up to her sitting at a table full of people and ask her to dance. I did not wait for the answer and put out my hand which she took immediately. With everything I went through if I had not been there to save Eddy, he would have never made it back to raise his daughter. I then would have missed that invite and never met Gayle. My life started with her, I just needed to go through hell first.” – Hampton was now holding her hand.
“I’m honored sir but why share this with me, sir?” -JT
“You seem like a decent man and I think you are the son our Jack might have become.” – Hampton.
He looks to his wife who I had not realized was crying and then back to me. He smiled and whatever was in his stare was now gone. I met two amazing people and one of them choose to share his story with me and for that I’m honored.
(I have typed up the entire conversation so I did not lose anything and I have a picture with them taken by the sister-in-law but he requested that it was for just for us)
“Once I’m dead, do what you like!” – Hampton smiling.
I sat with Hampton and Gayle in total for a bit over 3 hours.
We got up and walked out together and once at his wife’s newer SUV, which was birthday present from him. I shook his hand and then turned to shake Gayle’s but she steps up smiling and gives me a hug instead.
“I have never heard him talk to anyone even me about any of this, thank you so much.” – Gayle
“You are welcome,” – JT but I turn back to Hampton
“Talk to her more sir, she has earned it, that’s an order” – JT with a smile.
“Yes sir!” – Hampton chuckles and we shake hands a second time. #listen #survive #nevergiveup