by Frank Pauc
This first appeared in Frank’s blog on June 16, 2022, as “Not a Vet.” It is republished here with the author’s permission.
My son, Hans, called me a couple of days ago. He lives down in Texas, and I haven’t seen him for over a year and a half, but we talk on the phone frequently. Hans was deployed with his Army unit to Iraq back in 2011. He got a little banged up while he was over there. Some bad things happened. It seems like when we talk, the conversation always winds up with us recalling our military experiences.
Hans started the call by saying, “Well, I had an interesting time at Kroger’s today.”
I knew that I would regret asking, but I said, “What happened?”
Hans drawled, “Well, I was grocery shopping and I see this guy wearing an Army uniform. I had to look twice because that kind of uniform went out of service about the time I got out. Nobody in the Army wears that uniform anymore.
I looked closer at this guy, and nothing seemed right. He had no nametag. He had a Texas flag as a patch on his right shoulder. Nothing on his left shoulder. At least, he had his trouser legs tucked into his boots.
People were talking with him and offering to buy him stuff. That kind of bothered me.
I went up to this guy, and I asked him, ‘Where is your unit patch? How come you don’t have a nametag?’
Well, he started talking this shit about being Special Forces, and that he didn’t need the unit patch or a name tag. I told him that I knew Special Forces people, and they wore nametags when they were in country.
The guy was telling people that he was a sergeant. You know what rank he had on his uniform?”
I replied, “No, what did he have?”
Hans answered, “Private First Class.”
I said, “That doesn’t seem quite right.”
Hans went on, “No, it didn’t. So, I asked the guy if he wanted to see something that he never had in his whole life. He said, ‘Yeah’. I pulled out my wallet and showed him my old, expired military ID card. He didn’t say nothing.”
Hans sighed and said, “If I had met this guy after I got back from Iraq, or when I got out of the Army, I would have punched him in the throat. But I didn’t. I got a family to care for, so I didn’t do anything to him, even though all these other folks were trying to buy him stuff because they thought he was real. I just walked out of the store.”
I said, “Good move.”
We were quiet for a while. Neither of us spoke, then Hans said,
“Dad, why do people do that stuff? Why make-believe like that? It was disrespectful, disrespectful of everything.”
I did a mental shrug and said, “Because they’re assholes.”
Hans asked, “Is it because they want the glory, but don’t want to do the job?”
“Hans, I don’t know. I really don’t.”
Hans told me, “There was an old man there, watching this guy. He was a Vietnam vet. When I got ready to leave the store, the Vietnam vet told me, ‘Son, don’t you worry. I’ll handle this.’ I didn’t stay, so I don’t know what he meant, but he said he’d handle it.”
Hans sounded depressed.
“Well, I just wanted you to know. I love you, Dad.”
“Love you too.”
Editor’s Note: Per the National Archives Office of the Inspector General: