REMEMBER THE OLD DAYS, BUT NOT TOO OFTEN
|When I was a soldier back in the dark ages of the Vietnam War, there was a whole generation of American veterans from World War II and Korea. And they all wanted to talk to me, or so it seemed, whenever I was in uniform. At almost every bus station, airport and train depot I passed through during my time in the military, a veteran of the Second World War or Korea -- they were my father's age or older -- would walk up and began a conversation with, "I used to be in the Army," or whatever the branch in which he had served.|
To me, WW II and Korea were ancient history, just like the Vietnam War is now history to the young soldiers of today. I had not the slightest interest in wars that took place before I was born or when I was a toddler, but I always listened. Once, I missed a bus leaving Baltimore because I couldn't away from an old soldier without being rude.
It was not simple courtesy that caused me to listen to stories of bygone eras, though I had been brought up to be courteous to my elders. To be truthful, at the time, I really didn't know why I stood and listened to the old veterans. But I always did. Years later, when I was a uniformed cop working the streets of Knox County, Tennessee, my meals would often be interrupted with the opening sentence, "I used to be a cop." I listened politely to stories that held absolutely no interest to me, just as I had listened to the war veterans who once approached me while I was in the military.
Sometimes my meal would go cold while I nodded and listened to old cops as they looked back on a career they loved. Even when my meals got cold, however, I listened politely until the old guys were finished, until their wives came to get them, or until the dispatcher called me.
In 1993, when I was told that my police career was over because my heart had gone bad on the job, I told myself that I would never be like those old guys who had interrupted my meals. For a long time, I stayed away from the department because there was too much emotional pain involved in seeing my friends at work. Knox County isn't a big place, maybe 400 thousand people, so it was inevitable that I would run into officers I knew from the sheriff''s and the city police departments. Also, my face had been appearing over my column in the local paper for years and a lot of officers were familiar with my books.
On fairly frequent occasions, I would be recognized in a restaurant or the grocery store by a young cop and he or she would stop to speak. I made a point of being polite but kept the promise I had made to myself that I wouldn't bore young cops with stories that meant nothing to them. I'd chat a while, wish them well, then go back to my meal or my shopping.
After a couple of years had passed, I began to occasionally drop in at a roll call or go by headquarters to chat with old friends. I didn't do it often, not even as often as I would have liked but I finally stopped avoiding my old haunts altogether. It's been almost eight years now since I left and I make fairly frequent visits to the department. A couple of weeks ago, I stopped to chat with two young detectives who recognized me. They mentioned my latest book and one thing led to another.
About three minutes into the conversation, I realized that I was rambling on about a case that happened before either of the young officers had started high school. I knew that I was doing what I had promised myself I never would do, which was to dwell on the past. Both the young detectives were listening attentively but there was no doubt in my mind that I was keeping them from their work. I very quickly made my departure and smiled to myself as I left the building. After all those years, I finally understood why I used to stand and listen to the old soldiers and why I would sit while my food grew cold and listen to old cops -- and I knew why the young officers had listened to my story so attentively.
It's called respect.
David Hunter is a retired detective and the author of several books. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or you can visit his web page at CLICK HERE.
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