Saturday, December 23, 2017
Daniel was proud of his daughter, Kaitlyn. At 17 years old, she was a senior in High School. Her grades were excellent; and her future looked bright, indeed. Although not considered to be one of the popular kids at school, Kate had her share of friends, all “good kids” as Daniel thought of them. Kate had a relatively normal social life for a teenager, and was even involved in a couple clubs at school.
The one she was most enthusiastic about was the West Valley High Amateur Radio Club. Kate had earned her Ham license early on as a 9 year old. Even back then, she knew the high school had a club and she eagerly anticipated becoming a member one day. It was a natural fit and she joined in her Freshman Year. She blossomed under the tutelage of the club’s Faculty Adviser, Mr. Jackson. By her Sophomore year, Kate was elected Vice-President and then President in her Senior year.
All the equipment in Kate’s shack at home had either been donated or had been built by hand. Daniel regretted not being able to purchase any fancy or exotic radio equipment for his daughter. Due to a workplace accident, he was on disability and its resulting fixed income. A legal settlement provided enough to allow them to keep their house and live relatively worry free, and the monthly disability check provided for food on the table and clean clothes for his wife and their three children. “Niceties” like vacations, or expensive gadgets were out of the question, though. But the family didn't live in the Stone Age, either. They had a computer and access to the Internet, just the same as every other average American family.
It didn’t matter much to Kate as she actually enjoyed “homebrewing” her own gear. She did have one wish though, and that was for an HF all band, all mode transceiver that would allow her more freedom to explore the Ham bands than her homemade gear would allow. So she set about earning it. Serving as a life guard at the community pool during the summers and tutoring school kids from the neighborhood had allowed her to earn just enough money for what a lot of experienced Amateurs would consider a “beginner’s rig”. Even though Kate was a veteran Ham, this would be her very first piece of commercial gear that she could consider to be her own. Finally the day came, and Daniel had offered to drive Kate to the closest Amateur Radio store closest to them. They set out for the “Ham Radio Depot”, on a cold but sunny Saturday December morning. “Ham Radio Depot” was a chain of stores located in several states, and the closest one was just over the state line.
Daniel told Kate that first he had to stop for gas for the trip. Kaitlyn offered to pump the tank full while her dad went into the store part of the gas station in order to buy them both some sodas and snacks to tide them over while they made their way to the store. As Kate was pumping the tank full, a disheveled man wearing old, beat up clothes walked up to her. Even though he was unkempt and had long shaggy hair and looked like he could use a shower and a shave, he had a kind face and a gentle voice. “Hey there, young lady, you got any change you could spare?” Kate was about to answer the man when the owner of the gas station chased after the old man.
“Get away from here you old boozer! I’ve told you never to come back here again!”
With a sigh, the man shrugged his shoulders and then thrust his hands deep into his jacket pockets and left. It was obvious that he didn’t want to make too much trouble As the man was walking away, Kate asked the gas station owner who the man was.
“I dunno. some old boozer who lives underneath the underpass over by the Interstate. Says he's a veteran, but I think he’s just an old panhandler just looking for handouts from my customers.”
Kate finished filling up the tank; and placed the nozzle back on the pump. When her Dad returned he told him what happened, Daniel told Kate to get into the car so they could get started. As they made their way onto the road, Kate spotted the man who had been chased away, just ahead of them a little bit.
“Dad, stop the car and let’s talk with this guy for a bit.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Kate. We don’t know who this guy is.”
“ I don’t know much about him, either, Dad. But I don’t think he’s bad. He just had a way about him that tells me there’s more to the story than what the guy who owns the gas station said about him.”
Knowing his daughter had a big heart; and against his better judgment, Daniel headed towards the stranger. As they pulled up to him, Daniel slowed the car and Kate rolled the window down.
“Hey mister, remember me?”
The old guy looked at him, “Oh, you’re the kid from back at the gas station. I'm sorry if I scared you. I meant no harm.”
Daniel stopped the car and the two of them got out. “Not at all, Mister. I was wondering if we could do anything for you?”
“I’m sorry young lady, I was just looking for some spare change. I wasn’t about to buy beer or drugs or anything like that. I wanted to buy some food for me and my friends.”
Daniel chimed in, “Hi there, Old Timer! I’m Daniel and this is my daughter, Kate. Just who are you and your friends that you need to buy food for?”
The old man answered, “The name is Robert. I’m a Viet Nam vet. I’m a bit down on my luck and have no home. I lost my Maggie in '06 to breast cancer. Then in 2008, I lost my job in the recession. Before I even realized, the bank foreclosed on the mortgage and I was out on the streets. Nobody wants to hire an old guy like me, Now I live with some other vet friends – one from the Gulf War, another like me from “Nam.”
“Where do you guys stay? Do you really live under the underpass up the road?” Kate asked.
“Yep. Me and my friends built a few shacks out of cardboard and some old sheet metal we’ve come across. It’s not the Waldorf, but it keeps us dry and decently warm.” Robert answered.
“What branch were you in? If you don't mind me asking, that is.” asked Daniel”
“I’m a Navy man, sir. I was posted on a surveillance ship off the coast of North Viet Nam. I was a radio intercept technician”
Kate couldn’t contain herself “Radio? Really?”
“Yes, ma'am! I served on the USS Jamestown AGTR-3. We were parked off the coast of North Vietnam to monitor Viet Cong communications.”
Kate explained her own interest in radio and how she had been a Ham since her younger days They talked for a bit. When Daniel felt that Robert was on the up and up and wasn’t scamming them, he handed him a twenty dollar bill.
“It’s not much, but it’s about all the spare I have on me, Robert. Sorry I can’t offer you more.”
Robert shook his hand, “I’m much obliged to you, sir. I thank you for your kindness.”
Daniel answered, “No sir, not at all. Thank you for your service. I only wish there was more I could do for you. Well, we better head off. I’m taking Kate here to but a Ham radio that she earned for herself.”
“That’s OK.” Robert said. “You’ve done more than most. You’ve treated me like ordinary folk and didn’t just chase me away. Have a good trip and maybe we’ll meet up again, some day. I’d sure like to see that shiny new rig of yours, Kate.”
Daniel and Kate got in the car and drove away. Kate watched Robert walk away in the rear view mirror. She was quiet for a long time.
“You OK, Kate?” Daniel asked his daughter.
“Yeah, Dad. I’m OK. But it’s not right, Robert being homeless and all. He did his time in the Navy, he made a sacrifice for us. Somebody should do something for him now.”
They drove a little longer.
“Dad? Would you turn around?”
“Why, Kate?” he asked.
“I want to go to the Camp-More store and buy some stuff for those guys. I want to use my radio money.”
“Kate, you’ve worked so hard and long for that! If anyone deserves that new radio, it’s you! Are you sure, Honey?”
“I'm sure Dad. I just can’t go spending on myself, when I know there are men right here in our own town who need our help”.
Daniel reluctantly agreed. He knew his daughter’s heart was in the right place. He also knew her determination. Once she set her mind to something, that was it, so he knew better than to try and talk her out of her decision. They stopped at the sporting goods store on the way home and bought some warm sleeping bags and some other camping gear. Then they went to the local big box store and bought some blankets and some non-perishable food stuff.
“You want to take this stuff over there now, Kate?”
“Yeah. Let’s go”
They group of vets weren’t hard to find. There was only the one underpass in town that ran under the interstate. Robert saw them pull up, he had recognized their car.
“Kate, Daniel! You’re back so soon! What radio gear did you buy?”
“I didn’t, Robert. We went and got some stuff for you and your friends.”
Daniel opened up the trunk and started to unload all the items they had bought.
Robert was stunned. “Why thank you so much! God bless your souls. You didn’t have to do this, Kate!”
Kate answered, “I know I didn’t have to, I wanted to”.
“But your radio! Your Dad told me how you worked so hard!”
“There’s some things more important than radio, Robert. You sacrificed for this country. It’s time somebody did something for you.” The teenager said.
Robert and Daniel looked at him and then at each other. Both had misty eyes.
“That’s some daughter you have there, Daniel”
“Don’t you think I don’t know it, Robert?”
They all shook hands again and Daniel and Kaitlyn left for home.
“This isn’t over by a long shot, Dad.”
That night, Kate got on the family computer and started a Go Fund Me page. She explained the need the homeless veterans had. She sent the link to all her high school and Ham friends. She posted the link on social media, and it went viral. Before long, the Go Fund Me page had raised over $5,000. Kate’s social media posts had been seen by a local newspaper reporter and the story got spread even farther and wider.
As Christmas approached Kate was approached by a hotel owner who was touched by the story and was willing to put up the three veterans in some of his rooms until they got on their feet. Some local business men also got in touch with Kate to offer employment to the three Veterans.
On Christmas Eve, Kate, her Dad and her closest high school friends drove out to the place where the homeless Veterans were camped out. “Hi Kate! Hi Daniel! Good to see you! Who are all those people?” Robert asked, warily.
“Just some good friends, Robert. We wanted to come out and see you – we have some Christmas gifts for you and your buddies.”
Kate explained the Go Fund Me page to Robert and handed him the cash they had raised. Then the local hotel owner, Mr. McCutcheon explained to Robert that he had warm rooms to offer, and they could live there for a few months until the Veteran's got back on their feet.
“I don't know what to say.” Robert said. “I don't know how we'll ever be able to pay you back for all this.”
Then from the back of the crowd, a man stepped forward. “I think I can help with that. My name is Dave Taylor. I'm the manager of the local Home Handyman Outlet store. From the looks of the way you gentlemen built up your shelters here, it's obvious you're pretty handy and know a thing or two about building things. I came to offer you jobs at the local store in town, if you want them.”
Robert and his two comrades were flabbergasted. Never before had anyone ever gone out of their way for them they way Kaitlyn and Daniel had. A reporter from the local newspaper, Sherry Edwards, stepped forward and asked Robert and Kaitlyn and Daniel if she could interview them for a story for the paper. They agreed and the four of them agreed to meet at the diner in town in an hour for some coffee and conversation. As the little crowd started to disperse, Robert have Daniel and Kaitlyn a big hug. “God bless you both! You've been so kind. How can I ever repay you?”
Daniel replied, “Robert, you paid it forward, by your service to our country. Now it's time we re-paid YOU! You know, if you want to really repay us, though, then join us for Christmas dinner at our house tomorrow. I can't promise you anything fancy, just some hot food, a warm house and my the company of my family."
That Christmas was one of the best ever for Daniel and his family. He appreciated all the gifts he had. Even though life had dealt him some hardships and tough times, he had a family who loved him and who he loved back. He was proud of his daughter for her big heart, and for the fine young woman she had grown up to be.
The day after Christmas, the family was sitting around the table after breakfast when the door bell rang. Daniel looked at his wife and kids, “Are we expecting company?”
“I'm not expecting anyone, dear. You're brother is coming for a visit, but that's not until the weekend.” she said.
Daniel went to answer the door. There was a man there with a box under his arm.
“Is this the Walker residence?” he asked.
“Yes, I'm Daniel Walker. What can I do for you?” Daniel asked.
“Is your daughter, Kaitlyn home, Mr. Walker?”
“What's this all about?” Daniel asked. The two men talked quietly for a bit. The rest of the family in the kitchen were bursting with curiosity. Daniel finally walked into the kitchen along with the man from the front door. “Hi Honey” he said to his wife, “This is Ted Baker and he came to see Kaitlyn.”
Kaitlyn had a puzzled look on her face, “Me?” she asked.
Ted Baker spoke up, “Hi Kaitlyn! I'm the manager of the local Ham Radio Depot store. We read on Facebook about what you did for those Veterans in town here. We were especially touched by your selflessness and that you sacrificed the money you had saved to buy what was going to be your new rig. To us, that exemplified the Spirit of Ham Radio. So on behalf of Ham Radio Depot and all your fellow Amateur Radio friends, worldwide, we'd like to present you with this brand new Icom IC-7300.
Kaitlyn looked like she was about to faint. It was the last thing she ever expected and when she recovered, all she could squeak out was, “Really?”
Ted laughed and answered, “Really, Kaitlyn. You've showed us what Ham Radio is all about and what we can all be, if only we aspire to it. Merry Christmas to you and your family!”
Daniel and his wife beamed. This was truly the best Christmas they had had in quite a long time.
72 de Larry W2LJ
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