Despite all of its tourism, Virginia Beach has always been a military town. The naval base was just down the road and to the right of our hotel, and the Oceanic Naval Air Station was just a few miles beyond that.
All of which made every day resemble a Fourth of July parade.
There were plenty of these on the way into town:
And once at the hotel, we saw many more of these:
And I wasn’t alone outside yesterday morning to watch the rain. I had company in the form of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, otherwise known as the United States Marines:
Add to all of that the parade of destroyers and frigates passing over the horizon and the steady stream of F/A-18 Hornets flying over my head, and I had a three-day testosterone high. It all became quite the Pavlovian experience. Every engine, every thump of a rotor, and every bellow of a drill sergeant would illicit from me an immediate stare and an even more immediate, “Awesome.”
I guess it was all that testosterone that nearly got me into a lot of trouble Tuesday morning.
My wife and I decided to have an early breakfast at a nice little restaurant down from our hotel. One that didn’t promise the kind of food you could neither pronounce nor eat without proper instruction.
We decided to make our return trip via the sidewalk rather than the boardwalk, thereby avoiding the daily throng of joggers, walkers, and rollerbladers. After all, a good breakfast should always be followed by some good peace and quiet. And that’s exactly what we had for a while. Until I looked up and saw the four men jogging toward us.
“What are these guys doing?” I asked. “Don’t they know to run on the boardwalk with everyone else?”
“Don’t worry about it,” my wife told me.
But I did.
Maybe it was the fact that they weren’t following the rules. Maybe it was the identical blue T shirts with fancy emblems all four of them were wearing. I didn’t know. I did know, however, that there was no way four little jogging club nerds were going to make me move. Oh, no. They were going to get out of my way.
My wife began to veer off to the side, giving them ample room to maneuver past us. I stayed put. Our locked hands went from slack to taut, nearly pulling her off her feet.
“Let them move,” I said. “The sidewalk’s ours.”
She rolled her eyes. It was not the first time she had done so, and very likely not the last. Nonetheless, she surrendered to my macho idiocy.
The four runners crossed the road and onto our block. The two in the lead saw us in the way. Their brows wrinkled.
Uh-huh, I said to myself, I know you see me. I ain’t movin’, either.
The six of us met in front of the Atlantic Sands Oceanfront Hotel.
“Excuse us, sir,” one of the lead men said.
I didn’t move.
“You guys are supposed to be on the boardwalk with the rest of the beautiful people,” I said. “Sidewalk’s ours.”
My wife poked me in the ribs with an elbow. I ignored her.
“Our apologies, sir,” the other lead man said.
Our apologies? I thought. Oh yeah, these guys are SO intimidated by me.
Another poke by my wife. Harder.
“Sheesh,” I said, “I know city folk don’t care about manners and all, but you guys take the cake. You think you–
(poke poke POKE)
–can waltz around anywhere you want!”
(POKE POKE POKE POKE)
“What?” I whispered to my wife. “I have some manly mojo going on here.”
She ignored me. Her eyes were instead fixed on the T shirts of the men in front of us. The blue ones. With the fancy emblems.
I then realized two things. One was that there was another, very unique military base not too far from where we were standing called Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek. The other was that the fancy emblems on the shirts of those four men said “U.S. Naval Special Warfare.”
I was picking a fight with four Navy SEALs.
My manly mojo drained along with the color from my face.
“Beg your pardon, sir,” the first man said again. “We just like to run out here because there aren’t many folks out this time of morning. We like to keep a quick pace, and that isn’t always easy with all the people on the boardwalk.”
I tried speaking, but all that came out was “Whhh…” I cleared my very dry throat and tried again. “Oh…well, um…good. That’s just…real good.”
“We appreciate that, sir,” he said, then shook my hand. When he did, I noticed the tattoo on his forearm. Written in old script beneath a sword was written, “Isaiah 6:8.”
“Hooyah,” I said.
“Hooyah,” he smile and answered. And off they went.
I didn’t say much on the way back to the hotel, and my wife was kind enough not to say much, either.
I wasn’t thinking about the nasty taste left over from having my foot in my mouth. I was thinking about the scripture tattooed on that Frogman’s arm. Isaiah 6:8. There are other verses in the Bible that carry more meaning for me, but that verse has always been my favorite.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
For four days I relaxed in the sun and the sand, staying up late and sleeping in with little worries and few cares. Yet around me all week were people who dedicated themselves to nothing more than ensuring I could do just that. Rest. Without worry or care. Because they manned the walls and filled the breaches. Men and women who flew the Blackhawks and the fighters, who rose before the sun to run the beaches, who stood watch on the ships so we could sleep in peace.
They endure and train and fight. They are separated from families and loved ones. They live under the constant threat of mortal danger.
Not because they must. Because they choose.
Because each of them said, “Don’t send him. Don’t send her. Send me.”