By RALPH BURKE
I wanted to write this back then, but I always held off. Anyway, it's been at least two or more years that have passed since I saw her outside the store taking a smoke break- a thin, young, woman with a tough edge about her. The name tag indicated her as an employee.
I was wearing a tee that my brother stopped and purchased for me at the eastern seaboard Marine Corps basic training camp of Parris Island, S.C., while on the way to Florida. He and I were both Marines. This young lady seeing the shirt with the red and gold lettering and The Marines Corps Makes Men gung-ho slogan, looked and said: "Were you in the Marines?" I nodded. "I was too," she added, "but I didn't have a good time there."
I didn't know how or what to reply, and went into the store.
While in the aisle looking for the household products, I thought of her comment. She evoked thoughts that I had allocated to the recesses of memory; never quite forgotten - just shelved.
In my time in the military, what "good times" there were, never stayed around long enough - especially in the Marines. You're a private, you're dog meat, and in boot camp you're treated lower than whale dung at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, that and holding your own among others from all walks of life; then trained to put a serious hurt on freedom's enemies.
The corps though was a never to be forgotten experience, but it was tough duty and everyone had a job to do. I liked it best when I was in Korea, and in my small way helped to keep South Korea free from an oppressive North. South Korea is presently on par with us, and possibly even doing better in terms of economic and employment growth.
I had gotten my goods and approached the checkout counter. She was at the register. As she scanned my purchases, I said, "I didn't have it good either." There was just a flicker of response as I paid up and left. I shopped at that store a few times since our encounter, but I haven't seen her around.
I took her comment about the service as an attempt at reaching out - to me, a stranger - and give some sort of answer to whatever happened there, inside that relatively closed society. If we ever meet again, I'd just have her seek out family and friends for advice. All I can do now is wish her good counsel and Godspeed.
Ralph Burke is a Dunkirk resident.