True story, it happened to me this past Sunday (March 6th, 2011)
Early Sunday morning I got a call from my brother and he said he had just heard from our cousin Sherrie who was coming through Birmingham and wanted to see us on her way though. I have not seen Sherrie in about 8 years. Not since she joined the Air Force, so he said to come over and we would take her out for lunch around noon. So I got ready and was out the door in time to get there about 11:30. I am driving up I-59/20 towards Birmingham and as I am passing though Bessemer I notice someone walking along the Interstate (not hitchhiking just walking). As I pass I notice that it is a man in Uniform, the uniform of an American Army soldier. So I pull over and ask if he needs a ride and the first thing he does is reach into his fatigues and produces his honorable discharge papers (DD214) and military I.D. card (he says to put me at ease and to prove that he is who he says he is). So I ask him where he is going. He is on his way to South Carolina . I load his ruck sack into my car and off we go. I tell him I can give him a ride to Birmingham but I will be going north from there and he will be going east. “Roger that Sir, and thank you for the ride” is the reply I heard. I tell him “first of all I thank you for your service to our country, and second, any man in that uniform no matter what his or her age, does not call me SIR”.
We talk for a while and he tells me his story. This man, “First Sgt. Jeffrey Loving, 10th Mountain div.” has just returned from his 5th tour of duty, two in Iraq and three in Afghanistan . During which time he was wounded multiple times (and he has the scars to prove it, I saw them). He proceeded to tell me that his wife of 17 years was suppose to pick him up at the airport upon his arrival in Jackson, Mississippi and they were to pack up and move back to South Carolina where he was from. She didn’t pick him up. He took a taxi to their apartment and he found out she had cleaned out everything including his bank account, his Harley, and both of his guitars….everything, not even a pair of jeans left! He has no idea where she is, but a neighbor told him, she moved out the night before with her HUSBAND.
(Side note…there is a special place in Hell for people that do this)
He had nothing and only a few dollars to his name and the clothes on his back. (Heck of a note for someone who has just returned from his 5th tour of duty).
I asked him when was the last time you have eaten? “not in the last three days Sir”. I said let’s get you something to eat then. “No sir, not your problem sir”, “uuhhmm, YES IT IS Soldier, I am an American, it’s my family you protect, it’s my country you protect, it’s my way of life you protect, I can get you something to eat!!!!” I look at the next exit and see that all that’s there is a McDonalds’, and ask if that would be ok? “Roger that sir, that would be great, Thank you sir” “Please stop calling me SIR sergeant” however I realize he can’t stop, it’s who he is. I bought him 5 hamburgers, fries, and a coke. He went through 2 burgers, the fries and coke in about 5 minutes, then asked if it would be ok if he saved the other 3 burgers for later? “Son, if you are still hungry you eat them and I will get you more for later”
“I can’t have you do that sir, if it’s ok with you I will just save them”. I then asked how long have you been walking? I started in Jackson , Mississippi five days ago. He walked to the state line and someone picked him up and gave him a ride to Tuscaloosa , Alabama and he has been walking from there to Bessemer , Alabama where I picked him up (for anyone who doesn’t know, that’s about 45-50 miles) and he did this with a 50-60lbs. ruck sack on his back. It was about here where I made the statement that I couldn’t believe that he, in full U.S. Army uniform, had to walk that far without someone stopping to pick him up? You will not believe the reply I got!!!!!
“Sir, this is not anyone’s problem but mine, but since you asked, I will tell you that not only has no one stopped to give me a ride, but I have had beer bottles thrown at me, I have had garbage thrown at me and have been cursed and been called murderer.” “Sir I have never been more ashamed in my life.”
I pulled the car over, because I started to cry. He thought I was going to put him out!!!!!
I told him, son, don’t you EVER feel ashamed to wear that uniform. There may be some in this country that feel that way but son, I am not one of them. It’s me that feels ashamed, for the way you were treated. I told him that my father served in the Navy and had 8 tours to Vietnam , that 5 of his 6 brothers all had numerous tours in Vietnam , that my grandfather was a POW in Germany in WWII. I am the one who is ashamed and you son, hold your head high and don’t ever feel ashamed.
When was the last time you slept and had a hot shower? He dropped his head and told me his last shower was in Afghanistan , and he had not slept in 3 days. I told him I was on my way to see my brother and cousin in Gardendale and there are some hotels there, I will get you a hotel for the night and you can have a shower.
“NO SIR, I’m not your problem, just drop me off and I will keep walking, but thank you Sir”
“With all due respect son, I am not asking for your permission, I am simply telling you what I am going to do, you can get some sleep and continue in the morning”
“Roger that sir, and thank you Sir”
I got him a room at a Days inn in Fultondale , Alabama . I made the comment that it’s not the Ritz and his reply was priceless…”Sir, for the last 3 months I have slept on the ground in the mountains of Afghanistan where its hot as blazes in the day and freezing cold at night, this is paradise to me SIR, Thank you for your generosity, If you will leave me your name and address, as soon as I get squared way in South Carolina, I will send you money to repay you, I promise.”
“Sergeant, you owe me nothing, I am simply repaying you”.
I got him squared away and was happy I got to help him out, I am sure he was asleep before I got out of the parking lot.
I went to my brothers and my cousin was there and told them of the encounter with 1st Sgt. Loving, my cousin Sherrie (Sgt. U.S. Air Force) asked my brother to look on the internet and see how much it would be for a bus ticket to South Carolina ? we looked and it was about $70.00. So we devised a plan. We went out to eat like we had planned and we ordered WAY more food than we needed and we boxed up everything we didn’t eat (enough to feed 2-3 more people) and as we left the restaurant we went by the hotel to drop in on 1st Sgt. Loving. Sure enough he was dead asleep, we woke him up and to his surprise we gave him more food (so he didn’t have to save the burgers). I introduced him to my brother Steve, his wife Tracey and my cousin Sherrie. Tears welled up in his eyes and he was telling them of his plight and that I had taken good care of him and they should be proud of me, like I had saved his life or something, then out of the blue, my brother handed him a folded up bill and said for him to put it in his pocket. He refused, “No sir, I am not your problem Sir, I can’t take it, you all have been so nice and I can’t possibly take anything else, but thank you Sir”. Steve told him please take it, it’s not much but it will help some. He took it and unfolded the bill, it was a $100.00. WOW, my brother is amazing. He cried, I cried….well we all did. My cousin asked where he was stationed in Afghanistan ? He told her (I can’t remember the name of the base, wouldn’t you know it, in 3 months that is where Sherrie is going? They both were very excited, he was telling her things she needed to do to prepare for and things she needed to take and what not to do and etc…
The rest of us just sit back and watched the two of them in amazement. He was just what she needed, to prepare for her first trip into a hot zone and I think he felt good in being able to help out a fellow soldier. It was great. This went on for about 5-10 minutes and I hated to break it up, but I told him, that I would be coming back at 6:30 A.M. or so and pick him up to take him to the bus station and get him a ticket to South Carolina. The look on his face was AWESOME. (more crying) lots of hugs, (more crying).
1st Sgt. Loving told my family, that when he came back from Afghanistan and his wife was gone he was in despair, and as he was walking from Tuscaloosa to Bessemer , he had lost his faith in America and was losing his FAITH Period. He told my Family….”that I was his Hero”. (O.K., more crying)
Not sure anyone has ever called me a hero, and coming from Him, I have to tell you it meant something!
So Monday morning, I picked him up some breakfast and I arrived at the hotel to pick up 1st Sgt. Loving, and he told me, “Sir I wish I could have called you to save you a trip, but, I met the man next door in the hotel and he is a truck driver who happens to be heading to, wait for it…..South Carolina, not only the state, but to his home town in South Carolina. Can you believe it?
God works in mysterious ways doesn’t He?
He told me that he could never repay what we had done for him, but truth be told, he did more for us than you can imagine.
I didn’t write this to pat myself on the back, simply to let everyone know that sometimes a simple ride can be more than a simple ride.
Sunday March 6th, 2011 I met a true American Hero, selfless, kind, dedicated, respectful and humble. A true example of what America is all about. I promise you I got more from meeting him than he got from meeting me.
God Bless America , and God Bless our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Coast Guard and Marines!!!!!