I hadn’t planned on writing this week, but I went to the bakery this morning to get a donut for my wife. Neither one of us are feeling all that great in the wake of Maisie’s passing yesterday and I figured a sweet for my sweet might just be the ticket.
While I was getting my order I noticed the man behind me wearing a sweater vest that said, “Baghdad, Iraq” over the breast. He was ordering a cake and having a hard time getting across what he wanted to the clerk. She was trying hard and he just seemed to have a fixed idea that he couldn’t convey in words. Finally they hit on a compromise and he asked that it say, “Happy Birthday, Mike.” I figured he was the poor guy who had to get the office cake for someone’s birthday.
I remarked to him that most people have stuff that says, “Duluth” or “Hilton Head, South Carolina” on the chest and that I doubted he vacationed in Baghdad. I asked if he was OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom?)
He gave a sad smile and said, “Most people think I’m a Iraqi when I wear this. [He has a darker complexion] But I was over there and my son was over there. Today would have been his 30th birthday. His name is Mike.”
I was gripped by the man’s honor and dignity. He loved his son even in death. He wanted to celebrate that life no matter what had happened in the 30 years since the child was born. I was amazed at his strength of character.
I offered my condolences and told him that I was a vet from the previous generation. I thanked him for his service and his loss. And then I grabbed my little bag and walked out to the car.
I sat down in my seat and wept for his loss. My loss, stinging as it is today, is nothing compared to Mike’s father. I could only thank God for bringing me through my service and blessing me with another day to live.
And today, on Mike’s birthday, I’d ask all of you to say a prayer for our military and the Gold Star families out there. Every day is Mike’s birthday for one of them.
Happy Birthday, Mike. Thank you for your service and sacrifice. And, to Mike’s father: God Bless you, Sir.