Happy Memorial Day, folks!

It is easy to enjoy this extra-long weekend and day off while forgetting the true meaning behind the day. Memorial Day was set aside to honor and remember those who have given their lives while serving in the armed forces. We decided this would be a great day to fulfill one of our requests to honor a military veteran.

Today we met a man from New Mexico named Andy while at a beach in Seaside, OR. We were just walking back to the car from the beach when we noticed a man sitting in the back of a mini-van with the side door slid open. He wore a U.S. Marines hat as he looked quietly toward the ocean. By the time we got to the car it was clear we had to talk to this man. We assembled a Project Wildness envelope with a note, stickers, and a cash gift of appreciation.

After making small talk about the best location to pick sand dollars with Andy and his family, we jumped in to ask about his hat. Andy told us he had served in the Marines from 1966-1971 and spent 15 months in Vietnam.

We handed him the envelope and thanked him for his service. After opening the envelope and reading the letter wrapped around the gift, Andy lit up. He immediately got to his feet to shake our hands and then came in for a hug saying, “I may be a hard-ass Marine, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give you a hug.” We all embraced, swapping hugs and smiles. Andy and his family shared stories about how the Marine Corps was a proud family tradition, but that returning from duty was different in his day.

When Andy returned home from Vietnam, “They spit on us and called us baby killers.” he said. “In all my years I have never been given a gift like this. This brought tears to my eyes.” As we talked to Andy’s family he disappeared behind the van digging in their luggage and returned with a knife. It was a Marine standard issue Kabar and he wanted us to have it as a gift from him. We were incredibly touched but told him we couldn’t accept something so important. He insisted.

To Alicia and Jona Baer… You contributed with a request that it be used to buy a meal or drinks for past or current military personnel. Andy told us immediately he and the rest of his family were hoping to eat some great local seafood and this would be plenty to cover it. He told us he now had a great story to tell when he returned home to Albuquerque. And thanks to you, he shared his with all of us.

Honor a veteran. Even a hard-ass Marine might have a hug buried in him.‪#‎ProjectWildness‬