Morning in an American Hotel

Morning. The lobby of my hotel is crowded. It’s breakfast time.

This is the moment of day when guests emerge from rooms with messed-up hair, bedroom slippers, and wrinkled clothes. They shuffle through corridors toward Bunn coffee machines like the living dead.

I’m eating processed “scrambled-egg-like” matter, and sausage that has been labeled “100% real meat.”

There is an elderly man in line who uses a mechanical wheelchair. He wears a green ballcap with “Vietnam” printed on the front.

He cannot reach the buffet serving spoon because his wheelchair is too low.

Behind him in line is a boy. The kid has reddish hair and freckles. He is full-faced and friendly.

“Here,” says the boy, “allow me.”

The kid uses the serving spoon to dish the “eggish” abberation onto the old man’s plate. The old man thanks him.

“What else do you want on your plate?” Junior asks.

The old man says, “Oh, don’t worry about me, I can help myself.”

“I don’t mind. I’ll help you.”

The old man just smiles at the kid. This man is perfectly capable of fixing his own plate, but sometimes an act of service isn’t about the servee.

“Okay,” says the old man.

The boy points to the sausage. “Would you like some of this stuff?”

“Yes, please.”

“How much would you like?”

“I’ll say ‘when.’”

The boy wrinkles his face. “When?”

“It’s what people say whenever they’ve had enough of a good thing.”

The boy still doesn’t understand. “They say ‘when’?”

“That’s right.”

The boy starts dishing up the faux-meat patties until the old man says, “When.”

“Would you like an apple or banana?” the boy says.

The old man shakes his head. “Only fruit I eat comes in a wine glass. But I’ll take some orange juice.”

The boy removes a plastic cup from a stack. He fills it from the Star-Trek-like juice dispenser.

“How about some bread?” asks the kid.

“A bagel. And I want it toasted.”

The boy fetches a bagel from the acrylic breadbox. Then he carefully splits the bagel, using his bare hands. He manhandles the bagel like a kid playing with Play Dough.

“Don’t worry,” says the kid. “I washed my hands.”

“How reassuring.”

The boy places the mangled bagel halves into the conveyor toaster oven. A marvelous machine. As they are waiting for the toast, the kid speaks. “Were you in a war?”

“Yes.”

“The Vietnam War?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Was it hard?”

“Well, it certainly wasn’t soft.”

The boy smiles politely. He realizes he’s asked too much. His parents have raised him not to probe. So he falls quiet.

The old man breaks the awkward silence. “Tell me, how old are you?”

“Thirteen.”

The old man nods. “I was six years older than you when I went over.”

“To Vietnam?”

“Cambodia.”

“Did you fight?”

“Yes.”

The boy says nothing.

“But people don’t understand,” the old man says. “Most folks thinks we all carried rifles and patrolled the jungles, and got shot at. But it wasn’t like that for everyone. Some of us saw combat. Some didn’t.”

“Did you see combat?”

“I did.”

“What did all the other people do?”

“Six out of seven guys during Vietnam served on bases, or worked intelligence. Some were stationed in Germany, or Japan, or here in America. They were cooks, typists, drivers, paper runners, and REMFs.”

“What’s a REMF?”

“Never mind.”

The man’s bagel is ready. His slices fall from the chute of the conveyor toaster. A marvelous machine.

“What I mean is,” the old man says, “everyone was important in Vietnam. The soldiers who carried the gear in the rear made it possible for us to take hot showers. The guys who brought food and beer kept us alive.”

“You had beer over there?”

“Oh yes.”

“I bet you were glad to come back home.”

The old man nods. “Yes.”

“Did you get hurt over there?”

“I did.”

The boy goes silent. Then he says, “I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault.”

The kid uses the complimentary tongs to place the bagel onto the man’s plate. He carries the old man’s plate and orange juice to a table in the dining room.

The old man follows, whirring his wheelchair forward. The kid asks if the old man needs anything else. The old man tells him he’s okay from here.

The kid smiles. He presents his young hand like a grown up. Good manners.

The old man pumps the boy’s hand and says, “Thanks for your help today, son.”

“No, sir,” says the kid sincerely. “Thank you for your service.”

When.

62 comments

  1. 🇿🇦🇿🇦 Norma Den - September 27, 2022 7:59 am

    Thank God for parents who teach their kids right. God bless that boy & the Vietnam veteran. All is not lost when we see or hear good being done by strangers for strangers.

    Reply
  2. Ed (Bear) - September 27, 2022 8:32 am

    “100% real meat” – lol – Don’t it make you wonder… 😉

    Reply
  3. Gordon Walden - September 27, 2022 9:31 am

    As a VN Vet myself, thank you for sharing this story. Many more are seen at the VA clinic.

    Reply
  4. Jocelyn - September 27, 2022 10:18 am

    Glad to hear young people still have manners. I coach youth rowing and most of the kids have manners. Some more than others. Our VETS need to be thanked at all times as they fought to maintain our freedoms. Another great story. Thanks.

    Reply
  5. Te - September 27, 2022 10:35 am

    Amen.

    Reply
  6. Christian Vowell - September 27, 2022 10:51 am

    Dang! Got something in my eyes.

    Reply
  7. Jill - September 27, 2022 11:07 am

    Sean, “You beat everything.” Love you. Love your writing. Love your heart.

    Reply
  8. Al - September 27, 2022 11:08 am

    Great article! Young people do amazing things. The Vietnam vets need the respect from the young generation.

    Reply
  9. Joy Jacobs - September 27, 2022 11:09 am

    Thanks for sharing. 😢

    Reply
  10. Stephen Disney - September 27, 2022 11:27 am

    “When”…..

    Reply
  11. Harriet White - September 27, 2022 11:27 am

    Brilliant ending.

    Reply
  12. Stephen Sauer - September 27, 2022 11:39 am

    Love this. Reading this one as I sit in my wheelchair awaiting my first cup of coffee, and Hurricane Ian, at the E.L. Bennett Florida Veterans Home in Daytona Beach. Sean, I discovered your writing when I came upon Eliza’s Run. Since then, you are the first thing I read every morning. Keep it up! And Thank you.

    Reply
    • Lynn B - September 27, 2022 12:52 pm

      Thank you, thank you, thank all of you.

      Reply
  13. sjhl7 - September 27, 2022 11:41 am

    Love this! Made my day and of course brought the tears to my eyes! Thank you, Sean, for seeing and sharing!

    Reply
  14. Sean of the South: Morning in an American Hotel | The Trussville Tribune - September 27, 2022 11:44 am

    […] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]

    Reply
  15. Suzanne - September 27, 2022 11:48 am

    Thought tests to my eyes!

    Reply
  16. Diana - September 27, 2022 11:55 am

    I love this! Thanks, Sean.

    Reply
  17. Edward Willis - September 27, 2022 12:14 pm

    Sometimes your posts bring tears to my old eyes! Another old VN Vet. 🇺🇸

    Reply
  18. Pat Bice - September 27, 2022 12:19 pm

    Beautiful story of a well reared 13 year old and a brave man who gave so much for our freedom! Blessings!!!

    Reply
  19. mccutchen52 - September 27, 2022 12:24 pm

    I never served so a lot of things I try to understand but don’t. Both of my son’s “were in the Sand Box” as they call it and they said they said his mom and I had the worst part. Waiting to hear and hoping only for good news.

    Reply
  20. Linda Lewis - September 27, 2022 12:25 pm

    I love our Viet Nam Vets. One, in particular, my husband, Fred. He spent his eighteenth birthday fighting in the Tet Offensive, at Hue. Ou county can never pay our debt to our Viet Nam Vets.

    Reply
  21. Priscilla Rodgers - September 27, 2022 12:38 pm

    What a beautiful story. That’s what the USA should be about everyone helping each other. Thanks for sharing

    Reply
  22. Anne Arthur - September 27, 2022 12:44 pm

    You are painting a beautiful picture with your words. It’s heartwarming to witness when a kid and a vet have such a loving exchange. It takes two to tango and this tango was special.

    Reply
  23. Stacey Wallace - September 27, 2022 12:49 pm

    Thanks for such a sweet way to begin our morning. Love to you, Jamie, and Marigold.

    Reply
  24. Ron M - September 27, 2022 1:22 pm

    Hope is still all about us. This is a reminder to look for its expressions. Thanks!

    Reply
  25. Patricia Gibson - September 27, 2022 1:39 pm

    Made me tear up❤️❤️

    Reply
  26. Sandra Jones - September 27, 2022 1:48 pm

    Tears of gratitude to the veteran and the kind young man !

    Reply
  27. David Britnell - September 27, 2022 1:54 pm

    Brings thoughts of thankfulness, faith, hope, and love. Thank you Sean!

    Reply
  28. Brenda Lynch - September 27, 2022 2:16 pm

    Yep. When!! When in a time so many complain about “today’s youth” along comes a young man to renew our faith in the real members of today’s youth! Thank you for sharing this young man with us.

    Reply
  29. majac3356 - September 27, 2022 2:30 pm

    When!

    Reply
  30. William Stocks - September 27, 2022 2:39 pm

    Thank you

    Reply
  31. Judy - September 27, 2022 2:39 pm

    Sometimes we can see God in our young people. Lots o our young people.

    Reply
  32. Cynthia Russell - September 27, 2022 2:47 pm

    THANK YOU AGAIN!! TEARS.. LOVE YOUR HEART!!

    Reply
  33. Tom - September 27, 2022 3:14 pm

    Thank You to the Vet and to that young man’s Mama for bring him up right.

    Reply
  34. Tom Wallin - September 27, 2022 3:17 pm

    I Loved this one. Simple but sincere. I wish I was there to see it. Thanks, Tom

    Reply
  35. Cathy M - September 27, 2022 3:19 pm

    This is my devotional for today. Can’t imagine how this young man’s parent felt. Beyond proud.

    Reply
  36. Sharon Eilers - September 27, 2022 3:25 pm

    Sean, you did it again! Tissue-time just with the word WHEN. So thankful for your daily stories about ordinary people and events that make my day. Sharon

    Reply
  37. Johnny Coggin - September 27, 2022 4:08 pm

    “No, sir,” says the kid sincerely. “Thank you for your service.”

    Aw man! I didn’t see that coming! His parents did something (a LOT of things) right. May his (and their) tribe increase!

    Reply
  38. mellenymunsell57 - September 27, 2022 4:14 pm

    I’m do glad I found you Sean.You brighten my day andI thank you; for your love of dogs and your humor. I’m a 65 year old lady with nothingmuch to do. Hopefuly I’ll see you in person one day soon. Keep up the good writting Thanks again Melleny

    Reply
  39. Patricia Taylor - September 27, 2022 4:33 pm

    Another tear jerker but wonderful. Thank God for children who are raised to be kind and considerate! And to the men and women who are willing to serve this country.

    Reply
  40. Suellen - September 27, 2022 5:14 pm

    My oldest brother was Air Force Intelligence and spent time in Vietnam. Here we were believing that his time was pretty cushy as far as serving in a war go. Then a year or so ago I saw him conversing online with some buddies who served there and oh my! I’m glad my folks never learned what he was really going through. We probably still don’t know the half of it. These Vets have my undying gratitude because God knows they were treated poorly when they came back to the USA.

    Reply
  41. Sue Ellen Jeruzal - September 27, 2022 5:15 pm

    Another column well done!! Thank YOU for your emotion-generating writing talent!! 👍🏻🤩

    Reply
  42. AlaRedClayGirl - September 27, 2022 5:32 pm

    My brother is a Viet Nam vet. Sure wish those soldiers had received this sort of kindness when they first returned home to the States. Thank you for this story, and thank you to all our servicemen and women!

    Reply
  43. Marie - September 27, 2022 6:04 pm

    ❤️❤️

    Reply
  44. WayneGina Yount - September 27, 2022 6:25 pm

    Amen. When. ❤️😭❤️😭❤️

    Reply
  45. Susie, as well - September 27, 2022 6:32 pm

    Beautiful! Loved this and love that wonderfully respectful young man. I know his parents are proud, and they should be!

    Reply
  46. MAM - September 27, 2022 7:38 pm

    That final “Thank your for your service” and the “When” caused an explosion of tears! Thank you for bringing us hope for the coming generations, and their well-raised and well-raising parents. Sean, your writing talent is beyond awesome the way we can picture exactly what happens, with sounds, smells, humor and pathos you throw in. Thank you for your message every day. Give Marigold a hug from me. I miss our dogs.

    Reply
  47. Dr. Bill Patterson - September 27, 2022 8:54 pm

    Sean, I love your writing. Your good heart and the ability to put your feelings into words touch me almost every day. The Lord said to “do good and cultivate faithfulness” (PS 37) and you help us all want to do just that. Thank you!

    Reply
  48. Chasity Davis Ritter - September 27, 2022 9:55 pm

    That kid must have had very good parents. You don’t see that from many kids these days or even from most adults. I gave me a real lump in my throat to say the least.

    Reply
  49. Karen - September 27, 2022 10:53 pm

    Thank you for this heartwarming story. Our youth are caring and kind. I taught for 38 years and worked with our church youth for most of my adult life. I have great faith in them.
    Our Vietnam Vets deserve recognition and respect. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  50. Barbara - September 27, 2022 11:09 pm

    Crying, good one

    Reply
  51. Buddy Bob's Best Friend - September 27, 2022 11:56 pm

    Thank you for a great story today. I like it when a young person shows respect for someone who has served our country.

    Reply
  52. Steve McCaleb - September 28, 2022 12:12 am

    Thank God for parents who have not abdicated their parental responsibilities to TicTok, Grand Theft Auto, the internet, cell phones, liberal federal judges who don’t know what a woman is, and those damned Kar-dash-euns. I’ll take good news when and where I can find it. And Lord please bless that young man (and his parents). In the words of my late grandfather that youngster “had some raising”.

    Reply
  53. Barbara G - September 28, 2022 12:17 am

    Sean, you give me hope everyday that there is so much good in America. God bless the vet, the boy and the wonderful parents who raised him. There are more like them, they just don’t get on the nightly news.

    Reply
  54. John - September 28, 2022 12:56 am

    “When”….indeed.

    Reply
  55. Cynthia Garner - September 28, 2022 2:11 am

    Wow! My faith in youth is renewed!

    Reply
  56. Martha Gwen Sibert - September 28, 2022 5:28 pm

    I made it through till the last two lines and then the tears started flowing. My late husband was a 100% disabled Vietnam War Veteran who had Parkinson’s Disease and peripheral neuropathy due to Agent Orange exposure. This was a wonderful story. I pray that this young man will stay as kind as he was here as he grows up. I’m sure his parents are proud of him.

    Reply
  57. Sheri K - September 29, 2022 7:09 pm

    Thank you to the old man for his service, the young man for his caring, and you for sharing it. God bless them and you!

    Reply
  58. Sheri K - September 29, 2022 7:11 pm

    Oops, I forgot my thanks to his parents for their great job of his upbringing!

    Reply
  59. Beverly - September 30, 2022 2:09 am

    Someone is taking their son “right”. God bless that boy and his folks! We need so many more young men like him. And, “thank you, sir, for your service.”

    Reply
  60. S Warren - September 30, 2022 11:52 pm

    Beautiful!

    Reply
  61. Barry & DeeDee Hanson - October 2, 2022 2:53 am

    Loved this one…just say when!!!

    Reply

Leave a Comment