It’s been nagging at me ever since the 4th of July. We went to the Rose Bowl for one of the largest fireworks shows in the country as we’ve done several years in the past. There’s food, motorcycle stunt, a Beatles tribute band- because what says celebrating our independence from Britain more than a bunch of Beatles singers. We were there with the kids, and our friends, and their friends.
There were thousands of people there. Among them, an older man in suit pants and pressed shirt, and black polished shoes. He was there sitting by himself in the row reserved for people with disabilities. Some people were singing to the Beatles. My kid was playing games with her friend and laughing. Vendors were selling their food and patriotic wares. The older man in the suit pants and polished shoes sat quietly against the railing. Just sitting. He’d caught my eye earlier. I didn’t know who he was. He didn’t seem to be there with anyone. He certainly wasn’t watching the motorcycle tricks. He just sat there.
Now if you’ve ever been to the Rose Bowl celebration on the 4th of July, it’s basically a patriotic assault on the senses. Stars and Stripes and beer and hot dogs and motorcycle wheelies and anthems and music and finally fireworks. Lots of fireworks. But while the stadium is still filling up and half the seats are empty there’s something else as well. Each year, the Jumbotron flashes the pictures of local military members who gave their all for our freedom and independence. It’s a blip. It’s a gloss over during the evening of fireworks and music and streamers and bouncy red white and blue super balls being tossed in the air. It happens when everyone is getting nachos and finding the bathroom and looking for their friends while trying to Instagram cool pics. And so it was on this night. As we sat with friends. As my kids laughed with their friends. The names of local soldiers who had died in battle flashed on the Jumbotron while it seemed everyone wasn’t paying attention.
Well, not everyone.
The man in the dress pants and pressed shirt and polished black shoes caught my eye. He stood at the railing now. He stood. Just standing. Then I saw him raise his hand, slowly, slowly, and he brought it to his brow, and saluted. One specific photo popped up on the screen and he saluted. It took me a moment to process what I was seeing. I watched him. My wife must have seen the same thing. About the same time we both asked our kids to quiet down and be respectful while the pictures flashed. People still streamed into the stadium. Vendors still sold their ice cold lemonade and seven dollar waters. The man stood and saluted. We sat quietly. The faces flashed for several minutes. The man with the weathered face sat back down in his folding chair. The night went on. The Beatles band played. He sat there. He just sat for a few minutes. Quiet contemplation I guess. I thought about going up to him. I don’t know why. I wanted to say hello. I wanted to ask WHO he was saluting. I wanted to say thank you. I chickened out. He left before the Beatles band hit the third song. He never returned for the fireworks.
Now I’m left only to think about why he was there, who he was saluting, and how 25,000 of us could have been so selfish. If I had to do it all over again, I’d stand respectfully, honor those served, and thank that man, for standing and saluting when we all were too busy eating our stadium food and posting status updates.