Every day, people come and go from our lives.
According to the New York Times, the average American knows roughly 600 people, and interacts with around three new people every day. That’s a lot of influence, both big and small, for our brains to keep track of.
Most people forget the little encounters they have each day, but the truly impactful ones stick with us forever. That’s exactly how one soldier feels about the veteran he met in an airport one nasty winter night.
Reddit user KillerBeeTX described his encounter on an Ask.Reddit thread, responding to an inquiry about one-time meetings that users never truly forgot.
He was stuck in the airport in Atlanta, KillerBeeTx explained, waiting to fly overseas for his deployment.
Although he was dressed in plainclothes, he went on to explain, his haircut and overall demeanor likely helped him stand out a little bit—so sure enough, when he was sitting at a bar passing the time before he would finally be allowed to board his plane, an older gentleman approached him.
At first, KillerBeeTX wrote that he was irritated by how close the older man sat to him. “My first thought,” he went on to explain, “was along the lines of ‘why is this weird dude in my space?'” Especially, the writer mused, since the entire bar was totally empty? He wasn’t exactly flying during a popular time; with a tough winter storm discouraging travel, few were waiting to board flights that particular evening.
The older man wouldn’t leave his presence a mystery for long, though.
After ordering a drink, the newcomer turned to KillerBeeTX and asked him point blank what unit he was in.
Taken aback, the soldier declined to specify his unit, but did ask; how, exactly, did this older gentleman know that he was in the service?
His new drinking companion laughed.
“Son,” he elderly bargoer explained, “I served in the Army for almost 36 years.” After that long, he explained, he could spot other members of the military from a mile away.
The two got to talking, and KillerBeeTX was blown away.
He was regaled with tales of wars fought and wars both won and lost from times long past, as the older soldier explained his involvement in World War II, Korea, then the Vietnam War—in which he did five separate tours.
He talked about the moment he decided the military was his calling, then told stories of everything from the battlefront to his days as a drill sergeant preparing new recruits for hard days and longer nights. He fought alongside Teddy Roosevelt Jr., stormed Normandy, and lost the sight in one of his eyes when he was shot four times while in the line of enemy fire during his final years in the service.
Finally, he retired from the military in 1977, wrapping up his fascinating and action-packed days on the battlefield as a Command Sergeant Major.
KillerBeeTx didn’t want the conversation to end, he wrote, as the tales drew him in and caused his jaw to drop. Eventually, though, he had to go board his flight—but not before getting one final gift from the unexpected new friend.
The retired veteran paid for the younger man’s food and drinks, then gave him what he could call “the sweetest, manliest hug.”
He wouldn’t exchange contact info, simply telling KillerBeeTx that his name was Jack and bestowing him with one of his last-earned challenge coins. Nothing would happen to the younger solider, Jack explained, while carrying that chip; any enemy that harmed him would be haunted by the older military hero if they did.
Since that day, KillerBeeTX has carried the challenge coin in his pocket everywhere he goes. “Thanks, Jack,” he wrote.
Maybe the two will run across one another again in the future, but it’s hard to believe. Instead, the younger soldier has something much more precious; a tangible memory of his chance encounter, and a lasting impression he’s unlikely to ever forget.