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The Lieutenant Lesson

Teachings of a Child

by Hal Evan Caplan
March 23, 2013

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The Lieutenant Lesson

My son is my teacher and the lessons I learn from him hit me by surprise most of the time. I should know by now to expect the unexpected lesson anytime or anyplace. These lessons are not in disguise, it's just that based on the situation at hand, I can't see a reason for one to begin. Come to think of it, that is the time when they usually happen. I'm not a mind reader and I don't ask to be taught a lesson at a given time, but I am taught these lessons when I least expect to. He is my teacher and I am open to learn whenever he chooses to start the lesson plan.

We were in route to New York City for vacation to visit family. During our time in the airport, we noticed a lot of military personnel dressed in their fatigue issued attire. They were everywhere we looked. I overheard part of a conversation between two Soldiers and from what I could tell; most of them were actually headed home. As we sat in the terminal waiting for the airline representative at the gate to call out so we could board our plane, it was very noticeable that more and more military personnel continued to appear, everywhere and I mean everywhere. It was like a sea of fatigues. It was awesome.

My teacher was in ah of the situation. I don't believe he had ever seen so many military personnel dressed in fatigues all in one place. These men and women of service were in groups spread all around the terminal. Most of them were sitting on the floor, a handful were laying on the floor with their bags propping up their heads as pillows and a few were sitting in seats. As I looked around, I too, was in ah of the situation. It was great to see almost all of them I set my eyes on smiling and laughing.

There was a vacant seat right next to us. A tall Soldier also dressed in his fatigues walked up to me and in a very polite manner asked if the seat was available. I voiced that it was his for the taking. He put his knapsack on the ground and sat down and immediately closed his eyes. My teacher could not stop starring at this marvel of a man sitting next to us. I seriously don't think that my teacher even blinked once. My wife, my teacher and I all looked at each other and smiled. Soon thereafter, my wife decided it would be best to take a quick restroom break before the announcements overhead began and she walked away and out of sight.

The Soldier opened his eyes after a few minutes and noticed my teacher checking him out. He looked right back at my teacher, then me, then back at my teacher and got this huge grin on his face. He opened his knapsack and shuffled his hand around inside of it until he located whatever it was he was looking for, pulled it out and closed his bag.

He leaned forward and began to speak to my teacher. "I would be honored if I can give this to you", he voiced. He opened his hand and there was a coin in his palm. "This coin is called a First Salute Coin and it is given to the first enlisted Soldier who salutes a newly commissioned second lieutenant." He explained. "I really want you to have it."

I did some research on the First Salute Coin and based on my findings the U.S. military has a long running tradition - a newly commissioned second lieutenant is required to present a dollar coin to the first enlisted member who salutes him. Basically, an officer has to "buy" the first salute and earn it thereafter. According to one Army officer's guide, the presentation of the coin symbolically acknowledges the receiving of respect due the new officer's rank.

The coin, minted in bright nickel silver, displays the 2LT rank insignia prominently on the front with the words: Duty - Honor - Country, symbolizing commitment to oath and country. The reverse has the words - In Appreciation and a space to engrave the name, date of rank, branch of service, etc.

My jaw hit the ground. My teacher was speechless, which was a first, and all he could get out of his mouth was, "thank you very much" as he shook the Soldier's hand. I expressed to him how generous it was that he did that and I too shook his hand. He again smiled at both of us and then put his headphones in his ears, leaned back in the chair, closed his eyes and tuned out the world.

I immediately turned to my teacher.

"Wow, you do realize how special this is and what he just did, don't you?" I expressed.

"Yes, that was amazing." He mumbled as he was still in a stunned like state of mind staring at the coin.

"Why didn't you say anything else to him?" I asked.

"Dad, I couldn't, I froze up." He explained.

"I can understand that. Why don't you try and talk to him when he's done resting." I urged.

"I don't know what to say." He replied.

"Introduce yourself or let him know that you appreciate him or anything." I encouraged.

"I'm just nervous, dad. He is a military guy." He uttered.

"Yes, he is in the military, but he is a person just like you and me." I brought to his attention.

Then the Solider opened his eyes, with the headphones still in his ears he stood up, gave both of us a nod and walked over to a large group of other military personnel. I shook my head in disappointment. I was hoping that my teacher could talk with him a little while - about anything. Then my wife reappeared and my teacher showed her the coin and told her the story behind it. Her comment was that she of course missed the whole thing. Just then, the boarding announcement began and gone was our new military friend.

Leave it to Murphy's Law as our zone to board the plane was the last zone. I did a quick glance around to see if I could spot our new military friend but unfortunately to no avail. We slowly began down the jet-way like cattle and eventually stepped onto the plane. I knew we were boarding the plane, but I had no idea I would learn a lesson from my teacher.

As we began our lengthy journey to our seats in the back of the plane, I saw our new military friend already sitting in his seat. We had no idea he was on our flight. My teacher stopped at our new friend's seat and said some things that just made my heart sink.

"I just wanted to say thank you for the coin. It really means a lot to me. Thank you very much for serving our country. I know we didn't get to talk back there, but I wanted to introduce myself." My teacher told our new military friend his name and again shook his hand. Our new friend replied, "Thank you. It is an honor to meet you, my name is Lieutenant Brown." Another huge smile appeared on Lieutenant Brown's face as well as my teacher's face.

We finally arrived at our row of seats at the back of the plane. Once we sat down, I turned to my teacher.

"I am extremely proud of you for stopping and saying that to him." I gleamed.

"Thanks." He responded.

"Do you realize that not only did he impact your life, but you impacted his, too?" I emphasized.

"No." He retorted.

"I know you said earlier the fact that Lieutenant Brown gave you the coin was amazing but believe me, he won't forget this either. Especially since you made a point of stoping at his seat and saying those things to him" I pointed out.

We sat and looked at the coin some more. Then my teacher paused, looked at me and then voiced that it is important to tell the men and women that server in our military thank you for serving. I couldn't have been more proud of my teacher and I couldn't agree more.

Lieutenant Brown, where ever you are, my son and I salute you and thank you for a memory of a lifetime. And to ALL MILITARY PERSONNEL PAST AND PRESENT, THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH FOR YOUR SERVICE AND BE SAFE!

In a nutshell, the lesson that I was reminded of that day was: It is very important to let members of our military know that we support them and to thank them for serving our country.

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Lula Christ from Birmingham, AL writes:
March 24, 2013
A great and heartwarming story. May God Bless America.

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PO BOOKS BY HAL EVAN CAPLAN
Teachings of a Three Year Old... Turned Tyke
Published September 28, 2010

A father learns from the wisdom of his toddler.

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