I had just plopped myself into the cushiony seat at the San Antonio airport, pulled a notebook from my backpack and was going over notes scribbled at the USA Rice Conference, when an elderly gentleman sat down beside me. He was wearing a WWII vintage bomber jacket with insignias, including one for a Purple Heart. His son was with him and I asked if he would like for me to move so he could sit by his dad.
“I’m good,” the younger man said. “He apparently doesn’t want to sit with you,” I quipped to the WWII veteran. “He’s been taking good care of me,” he replied.
So we talked — about his service, for which I thanked him. And he asked what brought me to San Antonio. I told him I was covering a rice conference.
That’s when a woman sitting on the other side of me chimed in. “I wish those rice farmers would leave my water alone,” she said. I couldn’t help myself. “Would you rather wash your car or eat?” I asked, with probably a tad of sarcasm in my voice.
She explained that the lake she lives near is quite unattractive with low water levels, and informed me that she likes to fish. If she was looking for a sympathetic ear, she was talking into the wrong one.
“Fish are better with rice,” I said, again with probably a pinch more sarcasm than was necessary. “People don’t understand how much farmers have invested in making a crop,” I added, no sarcasm, this time. “Rice takes a lot of water, and if they don’t get it, farmers can lose an entire year’s investment.”
She went back to whatever she was doing before she butted into the conversation I was having with someone who had withstood a lot more hardship than the loss of a scenic view and a favorite fishing hole. I turned back to the WWII veteran who explained that he was on his way back to Germany, where he had served and was wounded — twice — during his tour of duty. His first injury was from shrapnel. A piece of metal hit his leg, but it hit flat causing mostly bruising. “I didn’t tell anybody about that one,” he said.
A more serious wound later sent him to England for recovery. After convalescence, he rejoined his unit. “It was all over by then,” he said. “The Germans were giving up.”
He told me that he’s a few months shy of 97 years old and that he was proud he was able to serve in the war but wouldn’t want to do it again. He was looking forward to his trip back to Germany and expected conditions would be much more agreeable this time.
On my way home I couldn’t help but compare the two conversations — someone complaining about a contrived inconvenience and a man who risked his life so she could continue to do so.