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A lesson from a train passenger

Dear Editor:

In March of 1968, I traveled to Travis Air Force Base in San Francisco for small arms training prior to going to Vietnam. Upon completion of training, I was given five days travel time to get from California to Seattle, Wa. the place of departure to Vietnam. Since I had extra time, I decided to take the train from San Francisco to Seattle rather than fly, so that I could see the beautiful countryside of California, Oregon and Washington. I boarded the Southern Pacific Railway in Richmond, CA, on a journey that would take nearly 24 hours. It was everything I had hoped for as the train passed through beautiful farmland, lush vineyards, breathtaking mountainsides, small towns and hamlets.

Upon arrival in Portland, OR, I had to switch trains and travel the remainder of the journey on the Northern Pacific Railway. When the time to board was announced, I made my way to the train. I noticed there were many more passengers boarding than I remembered being on the train from California. I was wearing my dress uniform and carrying my duffle bag. As I entered one of the train cars, I stood at the front and looked for a place to sit since the car was filling fast. As I stood looking for a seat, an elderly lady sitting a few feet in front of me, stood, and said, “Young man, you can have my seat, and I’ll find another.”

I thought, “Wow, this little old lady was willing to give me her seat”…it was a moment I will never forget. I thanked her for her kindness and said, “It’s okay, I’ll find a seat,” and I moved on into the next car and sat down.

The 1960s was a time of great turmoil and unrest in our country. There was a lot of resentment and disrespect for servicemen because of the unpopularity of the Vietnam War. But as soldiers, we did what we felt right for our country, even though there were many who refused to serve or wanted to blame the soldiers for the atrocities of a war half a world away.

I was one of the fortunate ones to return home from the experience of Vietnam safe and in relatively good health: both mind and body. But I, like all Vietnam vets, felt our country had turned its back on us. We returned to a country filled with animosity and clamor, without acknowledgment for what we tried to accomplish. We learned to accept it, however, and leaned upon our fellow soldiers for support.

But in the midst of all those negative attitudes, I remembered a little old lady who cared enough to let a soldier have her seat. She represented a generation where respect and admiration for the American soldier were important. She represented what made this country great…one who loved her country and the ones who defended her freedom. It is a lesson that we could all learn as we encounter our military men and women today. The vast majority perform their duty with honor and courage, and all they ask of us is just a word of acknowledgment for a job well done.

Jimmy Smith