September 22, 2021
A group of rude teens picks on a confused homeless man they see in a public park but he ends up teaching them a valuable life lesson.
Hal Corman was an army brat, and that meant that he had spent most of his childhood moving around from place to place, and that made it hard to make and keep friends.
Now that his dad had been promoted to some hush-hush job in Fort Benning, Georgia, Hal knew they'd be staying for at least three or four years. His mom was even buying new drapes. What Hal needed was friends, and he needed to impress the locals, quickly!
At least most of the other kids in town were either the sons of military personnel or worked for the base -- but most of them had been friends for years which made Hal the odd man out. He had to find a way in and establish himself as a friend worth having.
One afternoon after school, the three guys Hal had thought were the coolest -- Jerry, Kyle, and Conroy -- were sneaking off to the park and they asked him to come along!
This was just what Hal had been hoping for all along. Not that there was much to do at the park, it was the middle of the afternoon, so the boys took over the swings which were usually crowded with moms and tots, and lit a few cigarettes.
If Hal had been honest with himself, he'd have admitted that it was boring, and he hated the smell of tobacco and its taste -- but he had to impress the guys, so he drew in the smoke deep and struggled not to cough.
Suddenly, Conroy said what Hal was thinking. "Damn, this is boring! This town is dead, man! When I was in Tokyo..." Conroy sighed, "That was soooo cool!"
"No way!" cried Hal. "You were in Tokyo? I was in Ginowan!"
The other two boys, who had been moved around state-side all their lives exchanged envious glances. "We have plenty of fun right here!" said Jerry.
"Yeah, man," said Kyle. "As good if not better than any Japs!"
"So what do you do for fun?" asked Hal.
Kyle and Jerry exchanged a furtive glance. "We go hobo hunting!"
"What?" asked Hal. "What's that?"
"We roust the winos and the homeless, man," cried Jerry. "Get them to leave our fair town!"
"It's a public service," said Kyle with a nasty grin. "We're hoping to get us some medals!"
Jerry and Kyle led the way deeper into the park, and under one of the decorative bridges, they found a man. Hal was disgusted. The man was literally wrapped in rags, curled up on top of a thick layer of cardboard boxes.
We see someone when they fall and we think they're weak, but we don't know what they were before or what broke them.
He smelled bad: sour and dirty, and he looked even worse. "Hey dirtbag," cried Jerry, kicking at the sleeping man. "Get out of our park!"
The man raised his head, and Hal was startled by his eyes, dark and empty of hope. "Leave me alone," the man said and turned his head away to burrow deeper into his rags.
But Kyle stepped forward and kicked him too, scattering some of the miserable bundles gathered around him. Hal heard a metallic clank and Conroy zeroed in on it immediately.
"Hey, this dirtbag's got something hidden in there!" Conroy cried, and bent down to pick up a battered metal box. But while the man hadn't reacted to the boy's kicks, the threat to his treasure had him on his feet.
"NO!" he screamed. "That's MINE - my memories. I need those to remember!"
This time, Jerry, Kyle, and Conroy ganged up on the man, in what Hal could see was a well-practiced orchestrated attack, kicking and shoving until the homeless man toppled onto the ground.
He fell with his arms wrapped around that box, clutching it to his chest, sobbing. Kyle, Conroy, and Jerry carried on kicking him, but Hal had had enough. "Stop it!" he screamed. "You don't hit a man when he's down!"
The three boys turned their heads to stare at him in astonishment. "Man, when you're strongest is when you hit hardest!" said Conroy. "Didn't your officer fancy-pants dad teach you anything?"
"Yes," said Hal. "He said the strong protect the weak, and that man looks weak, and pretty sick too."
The other boys stared at Hal in disgust. "We thought you were cool," said Jerry. "But we can see you're a coward!"
"A coward?" asked Hal. "I'm not the one standing with two other boys kicking a man who's down!" Hal turned his back and walked away. How could he have wanted to be part of that group?
He was disappointed with himself, and with them too. Was that what they really believed? That being strong meant you could do whatever you wanted? That night Hal's dad was worried and asked him what was wrong. "Nothing, dad," Hal said and tried to smile.
"Well, don't forget the military parade tomorrow, son," he said, "honoring fallen heroes of the US Military."
"I'll be there, dad," said Hal dutifully, and at 9:00 hours, there he was, watching the veterans march by. To his astonishment, among the Vietnam veterans in their crisp, impeccable dress uniforms, he saw a man in rags.
It was the homeless man from the park! He might have been in rags, but the left side of his tatty jacket was dragging down from the weight of rows upon rows of medals!
The men around him looked at him with respect, and Hal realized that this man must be a war hero. He and his friends had been harassing a war hero! Hal felt deeply ashamed.
That night, he told his dad the whole story, including the fact that the old veteran slept in the park. "They said he was a wino, dad," said Hal. "But he didn't smell like alcohol. I think maybe he's sick."
Hal's dad shook his head sadly. "A lot of our veterans suffer from PTSD, and a lot of Nam veterans were prisoners of war, son. I'll contact the VA, see what they can do."
Six months later, Hal's dad invited him to visit a friend at the VA hospital, and to his surprise, it was the homeless old man from the park! He was clean-shaven and clear-eyed.
He snapped a sharp salute to Hal's dad who snapped one right back. Hal stared at him in astonishment. "Hal," his dad said, "I want you to meet Captain James Doyle, Special Forces."
Hal gasped. "Sir!" he said. "I'm so sorry about what my friends did, sir! We didn't know!"
The captain smiled and shook his head. "I remember that day, son, and I remember what you said. Your dad should be proud of you."
Hal blushed, and the veteran continued, "I'm better now, and getting help. Thanks to you I'm reunited with my children and maybe going home soon. Thank you."
The next day, Hal told his friends at school the story of Captain James Doyle who fought for his country and had been kicked in a dirty tunnel under a bridge by the children of American servicemen.
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