The Proud Americans by Gary Benton
Maude turned, gave me a big grin, and winked. Her smile seemed to reflect her deep affection of the whole situation. I smiled back and held down a chuckle I felt coming on. The whole situation was unbelievable to me.
“Preeeseeent arms!” A loud yell sounded from the platoon leader as the flag came into view.
“Order…arms!” Echoed through the streets of my hometown.
I felt the usual pride in seeing the American flag as it passed in review. I had served under it for more than twenty-six years, so I was well aware of what our freedom cost. I knew, personally, men who had died to give us the freedom we enjoy today. Now, I do, at times question our governments foreign polices, but I know the soldier, airman and sailor has no choice but to obey. Our military does not make our country’s policies, instead it is used as a tool when all else fails. Or, that is what I believe. Ask ten people about the subject and you will get ten different responses I am sure.
“Dang Gury, how come y’all ain’t in uniform today?” A loud voice filled in my right ear as soon as the flag pasted. Each Memorial Day I usually wore my old uniform out of respect.
Turning, I saw Bubba Lee, Willy Eugene, Maude, and Uncle Ben standing on the sidewalk. All four were in their old military uniforms and none of them would have made it in one of them high society fashion magazines. Nope, they were a sorry looking lot at best. And, my boy Bubba, well, he was the sorriest pup of the whole litter.
“Hey Bubba! Willy, Maude, and Uncle Ben! Y’all enjoyin’ the parade?” I asked really surprised to see them all together.
“I’ll ask ya once more, Mule. How come ya ain’t in uniform?” Bubba asked as he placed his hands on his wide hips and threw his chest out. Even with his chest out there was no hiding his beer belly or seeing his belt.
“Bubba, I wore a military uniform for over a quarter of a century. I wore it proudly, but I am a civilian now and I don’t want to wear one at every event. I got my Vietnam veterans hat on, my Desert Storm t-shirt, and I’m holdin’ a flag, what else do you expect me to do?”
Willy Eugene looked at Bubba, gave a crooked grin and said, “Yea, Bubba. He’s a gen’wine normal person now. He ain’t gotta wear nothin’ if he don’t want to.”
“Well, I thank its down right unpatriotic and all. I mean, you got all them medals and stripes and you don’t even wanna show ‘em off ‘er nothin’.” Bubba slowly shook his head as he spoke.
“Bubba, I defended our country so we, as Americans, could make decisions like this. See, in other countries I would have to wear my uniform. Here, I don’t. I’m still proud to have served, but life goes on.”
“Not fer many of the men I served with in Germany, it don’t.” Uncle Ben spoke for the first time.
“Ben, I know. Many people have died protecting us all, but I think you understand where I am comin’ from on this.” I had to comment in a respectful way to Uncle Ben, he’s older you know.
“Looky heah,” Maude said, “let’s all go down to the VFW and have us a beer and relax a bit.”
“Not jess yet, Maude. I wanna see the floats and such.” Willy Eugene said.
“Willy, iffen y’all want a float, I’ll take ya by the A and double you on the way to the VFW.” Bubba said with his face all a glow. I’ll tell you, the boy could smell a beer fifteen miles away and that at night during a blizzard.
I looked at Maude and was not the least bit surprised at how poorly her uniform fit her. I think the only part that was not too small was her little blue hat. The sleeves on the coat were high and tight, not to mention the fact that the buttons on her blouse were straining to stay in a row. I watched, expecting one or all of them to start popping. I knew if one went, they all would, and then it would be Honey save the bacon.
Turning to look at Bubba, I just shook my head. He had on a fatigue shirt of olive drab color, a pair of jeans (with his snuff in the right rear pocket), his stripes (both of them) looked like they had been super glued on, all three ribbons were old and frayed, and his belt was under his belly, maybe. He looked like a clown. But, he strutted around like he was General George Patton in review. It reminded me of how fragile the human mind is.
Ben’s uniform looked as if it was made only for him. I knew, nonetheless, it was the same uniform he had worn when he was discharged from the Army back in 1946. On his left chest were ten medals, including the silver and bronze stars. He had a Combat Infantry badge, just below his jump wings. I gave a low chuckle and looked down at his boots. The pants were bloused over the boot tops and the boots had been spit-shined to the point you could see your face in the toes. The man had changed little since his war days. He was still a paratrooper.
Willy Eugene had the best looking uniform on of the whole group. Now, I don’t care how you look at it, a Marine uniform is by far the most attractive of the whole shooting match. The whole appearance was one of dark blues and reds, with white trim. He looked professional as he stood there in the early morning light. He brought back the old adage, “once a Marine, always a Marine.” His hair had been cut to the skin, or high and tight as we used to call it. Nonetheless, his extra fifty pounds took away some from the overall affect.
In less than thirty minutes we were all seated at the VFW. I have to admit, a stranger group had most likely never been in the place. Here we were four men and a woman, home from various American wars, celebrating the honor of our fallen comrades. We sipped our beers, but, as usual, the conversation turned to current events.
“Did y’all heah ‘bout that feller up Vermont way that said Southerners were dumb or some such thang? He said we all drove ‘round with the rebel flag on our pick-em-up trucks.” Bubba said as he took a slow sip of his cold beer.
Willy asked, “I can’t find one, do you know if Cisco still carries ‘em in his hardware store?”
“Yep, and the feller is named Dean or Dan or somethang like that. He’s one of them political types. They don’t know fetch from come heah and y’all know that.” Maude added as she looked around the small bar.
“Well, now, the boy may have jess stepped on his shirt tails with that comment. I understand he said Yankees are caterin’ to Southerners too. Now, what in the Sam’s hill do ya reckon he meant by that statement?” Willy, always the intellectual of the group, added his dollar’s worth.
“Guys, he don’t care what a bunch of ragged rednecks thank ‘bout him. I bet he pays more fer a haircut than we do for a truck payment. Even if the comment costs him an election it don’t pay no neveh mind. See, they all thank we’re dumb ‘cause we have a different culture and language. They see what they call a rebel flag as a symbol of our resistance to become good Yankee wannabees.” Uncle Ben spoke, then pulled out his pipe and lit it. After takin’ a few puffs, he looked at each of us and said, “Well, don’t y’all agree?”
“Uncle Ben, I ain’t shore. I know some up north see us as ignorant and a bunch of in-bred fools, but we ain’t. Shore, we talk different, only we still take a man or woman’s word on things, but we surely ain’t dumb. Down here, your word may be all you own. We won’t cut a throat to make a dollar and we still love our families and believe in God.” Maude spoke once more.
“Maude, the man apologized for his comments today and I think we should let it go.” I spoke for the first time.
A loud laugh erupted from around the table. I looked around and all of them were red in the face and Bubba had a thin river of beer leaking down his chin. Not that that was really unusual.
“What is so funny? Did I say a funny?” I asked in frustration. See, talkin’ to rednecks can be a chore, even if you’re one of ‘em.
“You make me so laugh!” Bubba yelled in his best Curly of Three Stooges fame. This was all followed by a loud, “Nuk, nuk, nuk.”
“I’m getting sick of people a-tellin’ us how stupid and uneducated we are. I mean, look…..” Uncle Ben stopped speaking, looked at Willy Eugene, and said, “Willy, I don’t mean fer you to really LOOK. I meant that in a figure-like way.”
“Oh.” Willy responded in a weak voice and a slight smile that was visible only for a second as he lowered his head.
“I meant we have some educated folks right heah at the table. Gary, he has one of them Master’s degrees, Bubba has a Bachelor’s degree, Willy, you been to technical school to learn how to make cabinets out of empty fifty-five gallon oil drums, I got me one of them Associate degrees, and Maude has a degree from the redneck school of hard knocks.”
“Uncle Ben, that Dean feller, he don’t mean there ain’t no educated rednecks. What he means is we don’t dance to the music his fiddle is playin’.” Bubba said, and for once I was surprised by his statement. See, the comment was pretty deep for Bubba.
“Well, you know what he can do with his fiddle and his music don’t ya?” Willy said with a loud laugh. I watched as he opened his chewin’ tobacco pouch and place a world’s record chaw in his left cheek.
“And, the horse he rode to Washington on too!” Ben added.
“What is all the uproar oveh the Confederate flag? It is just a bunch of stars and bars on a red material.” Maude asked and I could see she was really confused over the issue.
“Maude, some folks still see the rebel flag, or Southern flag, as a symbol of resistance. They see it as a sign of slavery and bondage of our fellow man. They see it as a rally point for Southerners.” I gave her all I knew about the subject and then took a drink of my cold beer.
“Horse feathers,” Ben said.
Willy pick up an empty beer can, let loose a stream of brown juice into it, and then said, “You know, the Civil War’s been over fer more than a hundred and thirty years. When are folks a-gonna leave us alone? We don’t want nothin’ from ‘em. We don’t give ‘em no trash when they spike their hair, pierce their private body parts, listen to music with no intelligence, or when they cain’t sit still fer more than ten minutes without usin’ a cell phone or a computer.But, I draw the line when they attack our flag or our culture.”
“Willy, y’all jess slow down a bit. It was jess a statement from some politician that don’t know nothin’ about us. Now the boy is scared he will lose some votes over the comment.” I added, hoping to defuse the situation.
“Let his buns come down heah, and he will lose more than jess a few votes. I’d be on him like a hungry chicken on a Junebug. I hate ignorant people,” Bubba said with a very serious face on him. I knew, beyond a doubt, my boy was mad.
“Bubba. Bubba. Bubba, he ain’t worth the trouble. You can always tell a politician, but you cain’t never tell ‘em much. He has his mind made up and knows what he thinks, so don’t confuse ‘em with facts. Let it go,” Uncle Ben spoke, sipped his beer, and then let out a loud burp.
Suddenly, Bubba let out a loud laugh, looked at each of us and said, “Ya know, I’m proud to be an American! You see, don’t you? Don’t y’all see! I mean, listen to our talk heah.”
Now I was really confused. I had no idea where the boy was in this conversation so I asked, “Bubba, what are you talkin’ about?”
“No, Gary, you don’t understand. See, only in America we all disagree ‘bout things. Oh, we stomp and yell, and we carry on, but deep inside we’re all Americans. We CAN DO THAT! We expect to be able to do that! And, that’s why each of us at this table served in America’s wars, so we could do that!”
I realized right then and there, Bubba was right. We, all of America’s Vets, had fought our countries wars, so all Americans had the right to do just that—agree to disagree. Yep, we fought for the rights of all Americans to be free, not just for Southerners or the Yankees. We knew, each of us, the high price paid for our countries freedom, because we had seen the mangled bodies and the unseeing eyes of the dead. We knew, yes, we knew, in our hearts, that as Americans we had paid a price that was worth the cost. We all felt a pride in being Americans and of having helped preserved our nation’s freedom. And, what made me the proudest was the observation came from Bubba Lee.
Bubba, I love ya old son!