Trains played an important part in my early life. My mother and I traveled by train from Alabama across the country to California several times during World War II, while my father was in the Navy.
There were other train trips in my childhood, and I remember clearly our departures from the Birmingham train terminal. In 1949, my family decided to visit the train terminal as part of our holiday activities. I was 7 years old and enjoyed the visits as much as my parents. On this particular day, we walked through the lobby and descended the stairs, and I remember skipping along toward the train platforms when my dad stopped and called me back. He was looking at a soldier on the floor against one of the columns. The soldier was a young boy, and he was unconscious, with his belongings scattered around him. Everyone else passed by the soldier ignoring him.
An act of kindness
My dad stooped down and propped the boy up. The soldier opened his eyes and looked at us. He had bruises and cuts on his face, and did not look to be feeling well. My dad asked if he was all right. He answered that he had been beaten and robbed. My mother and I started to gather his scattered belongings while my dad talked to him more about his circumstances.
He told my father he was on leave and was heading home to visit his family in Alabama, but when he got off the train in Birmingham the night before, he ran into trouble. He asked several people to help him find the bus station for the last leg of his journey. Two men seemed helpful and told him they would give him a lift in their car. As soon as the three of them reached the car, the men started offering him drinks from a bottle of whiskey. The soldier was young and couldn’t hold his whiskey, so he quickly became drunk. The two men drove several blocks and then drove back toward the train terminal. They stopped the car in a dark area, pulled the young soldier out of the car, beat him, took all of his money, and then dumped him in front of the terminal. He managed to get to the waiting area near the loading platforms before he became sick and ended up on the floor where we found him.
My parents had a quick private talk before my dad helped him up and told him we were going to take him home with us. After we got home, Mom washed his uniform, fixed him something to eat, and provided him with lots of coffee. After the soldier took a bath, put on clean clothes, ate and had his wounds doctored, my dad told him we would take him to the bus station and buy him a ticket home. We didn’t have much money at the time, but this was extremely important to my dad.
The young soldier was very grateful. When he had his ticket and was about to board the bus for home, he turned and told my parents he simply didn’t know how to thank them enough. My dad smiled and told him that everyone at some point needs help, and someday someone would probably help a member of our family.
The bus headed off, and we waved, never to see him again. I don’t remember the soldier’s name, but I do remember my parents’ act of kindness. I now realize their act of giving with no expectation of anything in return — except to know they did the right thing — had an effect on my attitude toward helping others.
Share your stories of Good Samaritans, helping hands, paying it forward, and other altruistic deeds — whether you were on the receiving end or you remember the great feeling of doing the right thing. Email a 300- to 500-word article to Editor-in-Chief Hank Will (firstname.lastname@example.org), and we may publish it in a future issue of the magazine. Mail articles to The Right Thing, Grit and CAPPER’s Editorial, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609. The Good Samaritan involved in each printed article, if known, will receive a five-year complimentary subscription.