Once a week I drive a van to take veterans to the Veterans' Medical Center. The van will hold up to 8 passengers but 3 or 4 is a typical load for my run. Most of the riders are my contemporaries, Vietnam-era veterans but other wars are represented, too. I have veterans of both Iraq wars (Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom I think are their official designations) and at least one who served in Afghanistan (I'm sure there will be lots more to come).
Today's run was a little unusual, and very special - I had 3 passengers, one served in WW II, one in Korea and the third one was in BOTH of those conflicts! The number of veterans like these is dwindling (but sadly being rapidly replaced by younger veterans of more recent wars) and I felt honored to have them riding with me.
The van itself is pretty recognizable. It's decorated with the Stars and Stripes and the huge DAV (Disabled American Veterans) logo on both sides and the hood is pretty hard to miss. So as we make our way through town or cruise down the highway it's pretty apparent who we are and often we get a reaction that can be the highlight of the trip. Pedestrians often smile and wave and we always smile and wave back; drivers will sometimes make a space for us to slip into traffic on busy road; children waiting for the school bus stare, their mothers blow us kisses; and on-coming cars flash their lights and wave. It truly is heartening to know that so many folks really do appreciate these veterans and the sacrifices they made for their country.
None of which prepared me for what happened today. As I waited at a red light on a busy 4-lane road a huge garbage truck pulled onto the road behind me and as he got closer to us he started blowing his horn long and loud, like maybe he had lost his brakes and was going to rear-end us right where we sat. All this horn-blowing cleared the lane next to him so he moved up beside us, still honking and tooting leaving me totally confused but still unable to move anywhere, if that was his intent. And as he pulled alongside the van so I could finally look up and see him, the driver was grinning ear-to-ear and giving us a big "thumbs up" as he went by. So I guess all the noise and hoopla was just his way of saying, "Thanks for your service". Did I mention that it was the highpoint of our day?
So if you ever encounter on of those big red, white and blue vans in your travels, or maybe even a passenger car with "Veteran" license plates, smile and wave - I guarantee you will make the occupants very happy.