When I was new to the Navy in the late ’80s I was sent to the Naval Training Center in San Diego, California. I remember the first time I was allowed off-base for an evening of liberty. I was very proud to be seen in my Navy uniform, but I did feel a bit awkward. The area immediately adjacent to the NTC is full of nice restaurants and night clubs, and there are lots of locals who come to the area to enjoy themselves on Friday evenings.
Of course, while I had a lot of pride in my new career in the Navy, what I didn’t have was a lot of money. As a Seaman Recruit, I couldn’t afford to go out to one of those fancy restaurants — in fact, I just barely had enough to get a pizza and go to a movie with two of the new friends I had met during basic training.
So, the three of us were standing in line at the restaurant, chattering like a bunch of wide-eyed kids, and wondering if could pull together enough spare change to get sausage and mushrooms on the pizza, or if that would leave us short of cash for our movie tickets. As we were counting our pennies, we heard a voice from behind us in line say, “Get whatever you want, fellows. It’s on me.”
We all turned around and saw a very nice lady looking at us with a sort of amused smile. She put down a $20 bill at the cash register and said, “Dinner’s on me.”
I was sort of stunned, and I’m sure my friends were too. As much as I wanted to let her buy dinner for all of us, I said, “Thank you ma’am, but I can’t let you do that.”
Then she said some words I don’t think I’ll ever forget. “You guys are getting ready to go to work to keep our country safe. Think of this as my down payment for your service.”
I thought of that woman many times throughout my enlistment in the Navy — her words that night were my inspiration to muddle through more than a few difficult, scary and unpleasant situations. She probably thought she was buying us dinner because she wanted us to know that we were heroes in her eyes. I wonder if she realized that her small act of gratitude made her our knight in shining armor?
— Paul Lin, California
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