An older gentleman stands outside of Lydia’s Cabinet of Curiosities on the corner of North and Bird with his dog, waiting for his wife, who is shopping inside the colorful antique store filled with skulls, maps, paintings and enticing oddities.
He is dressed in an orange T-shirt with a red, white and blue Talladega “Sparks will fly” logo on the left pocket and sporting a black ball cap with the words “ARMY” and “VIETNAM VETERAN” and five stars stitched across the front in gold, along with three service ribbon designators.
The screen door of the shop is open, and a young man inside notices the gentleman pacing. He motions him to come in, tells him the dog is welcome and then notices his Army cap.
“Sir, did you serve?” he asks. The veteran confirms. “Thank you for your service,” he says, and he shakes the veteran’s hand.
“I did three tours in Iraq,” the young man tells him. The older veteran salutes him and says, “Thank you for your service.”
They both nod, and without words, the look shared between them acknowledges to anyone else watching they know something no one who has never served in the military will ever know.
Both men are a tiny piece in a much larger jigsaw puzzle of those who make up the American military — the men and women who make the personal sacrifice to defend our national treasure: our people.
What drives someone to serve? Retired Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, an experienced infantryman who took the reins of U.S. Central Command, the most powerful U.S. combatant command, in 2013 and held it until his retirement last year, has some ideas, beginning with his own story.
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