I met two people recently, and they were as different as Mardi Gras and Veterans Day. I have to tell their stories.
It all started while I was on a recent vacation to Alaska, where I was able to momentarily divorce myself from the pitter-patter of national politics and the latest goings-on making our national honor cringe again.
Alaska is, according to one of its former governors and a former Republican vice-presidential candidate, close enough to see Russia from her house. Try as I might, I could not see Russia on this trip. Mrs. Pratt gave it a shot, but she could not see Putin’s Playhouse either.
One of the places we visited was Juneau, where I meet my first person of interest.
I and a couple of friends were walking along a downtown street when a guy asked for some money. He mumbled what it was for. I could only make out a couple of words and one of them sounded like “I need ... feed.”
Sometimes when I’m approached like that, I might give whatever change I have in my pocket or a dollar. If they’re standing outside of a sandwich shop, I will offer to buy them a burger. I have only been taken up on the burger once.
Sometimes, I don’t give anything. This was one of those times. A couple of minutes later, my friend made me feel bad about not giving. But I got over that quickly because I looked across the street to see the fella who was asking for the money coming out of a cannabis shop holding something close to his chest.
The word he had uttered was not “feed,” but "weed." I laughed. It was the first time I had been approached on a public street for money to buy marijuana. As my Grandma would say, “Lawd, what is the world coming, too?”
Here is the best one.
I had just returned to work, and I was pumping gas into one the giant vehicles we drive. They can drink up more than 20 gallons of gas. It was taking a little longer than usual because the pump was soooo sloooooooow. A man drove up on the other side and started to fill up his vehicle. After a minute or so, he leaned over.
“I could have filled up my car a couple times by now at another gas station,” the much older gentleman said.
I laughed and agreed with him. I noticed the man had on a black baseball cap with gold letters. It announced that he was a veteran of World War II. I leaned over and said to him, “Thank you for your service.”
He responded humbly with a “thank you.”
We pressed on about the snail’s pace of the gas pump and traded introductions. His last name rang a bell. It turned out I’ve known his son and daughter-in-law for many years.
As I was leaving the parking lot, I thought more about the vet at the pump. I phoned his son and daughter-in-law to learn more.
The veteran's name is Tom Irwin. He grew up poor in New Orleans, where he worked odd jobs to scrape by. He enlisted and joined the Navy as teen and was stationed on a ship in the Pacific, where he was a sonar specialist.
Tom returned to Louisiana, got into the radio field in Alexandria and later crossed over into TV.
His son is Barry Irwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana and a former TV reporter. Barry’s wife, Mary Durusau, oversees museums for the Louisiana Office of the Secretary of State and once worked for The Advocate.
Tom Irwin will be 94 years old this month, and the Irwins have plans for him. They’re taking him to the World War II Museum in New Orleans. “He’s already packed,” Barry Irwin said.
His background in listening to sonar resulted in him recently being an adviser of sorts for the crew that was here earlier this year filming the Tom Hanks movie “Greyhound,” a WW II naval drama.
“He really liked that,” Barry Irwin said.
Barry and Mary laughed about Tom's several veterans’ caps. “People see those caps, and they are very nice to him. ... People volunteer to buy his lunch,” Barry said. That’s a good thing.
What a few days. I met a man who requested money to buy weed, which was a first for me, and the other, a 93-year-old national treasure who wished his gasoline could be pumped a little faster. You gotta love it.