The Big Mac Attack

Posted 02 Nov 2011 in Sample Stories

I was a Marine major on Okinawa in 1978. I had been away from the United States for a year unaccompanied by my family. In July-August time frame of 1979, my family was to join me for an accompanied tour of duty. It was to be our second one. Unusual for Marines. Headquarters had allowed me a bit of leave to travel back to California and assist my wife with disposing of two cars, a home and not needed furniture in order to make the trip back again overseas together. Being isolated from the United States, as Marines often are, one is usually shocked and/or pleasantly surprised at the changes in his own country when he returns from foreign shores after a prolonged period of absence. This trip in the summer of 1979 would reveal my ignorance of the many subtle and overt changes in American culture.

When I traveled in uniform, I always looked the part of a seasoned Marine combat veteran. I was and am–to this day–a proud Marine. Sometimes, it may have tended to rise up to the point of being an exhibitionist. Hollywood could not usurp me. Flying commercial air from Naha Okinawa to San Diego via Hawaii would expose me to the public for hours. I made sure my hair was cut short (Marine style), and I was clean shaven. Sharp summer service khaki uniform, with ribbons and badges prominently displayed on my chest and that determined Marine Corps swagger and steely eyed look on my face set the scene for public display. Hell, I was even frightened of me.

Through the last year my wife Lyn and I would talk on the phone, and, of course, we exchanged letters routinely. Every now and then, she would mention that she and the kids would go out to McDonald’s and have a Big Mac and fries. On Okinawa, in 1978-79, the nearest McDonald’s were in Tokyo and Numazu, Japan. Hundreds of miles away. I missed my wife and family, my home in Carlsbad, California, and I missed Big Macs. Call it a craving for a burger and fries. I set my mind to the fact that I was going to consume one or two Big Macs upon arrival in the land of the big PX. That’s Marine lingo for the United States.

The Pan Am flight from Naha, Okinawa, to Tokyo, Japan, was uneventful. Then, remaining on the same aircraft, I flew to Honolulu, Hawaii. I landed, went inside the terminal to check into my transfer flight to San Diego, and discovered that it was delayed four hours. It was at that time that the Big Mac urge took over. A lot can happen in four hours. I went outside the terminal, hailed a cab and told the driver to take me to the nearest McDonald’s. It took about ten minutes for him to deposit me in front of the familiar building with the big M displayed on site. It was a clear, bright, sunny day with warm Hawaiian wind blowing the McDonald’s flag almost straight out as I walked inside. My juices were flowing and my stomach grumbling.

As I stepped inside, several patrons looked at me. Some nodded a greeting. I responded likewise keeping my image intact. There was a line or two and I walked up to the shortest one and got in line. I was thinking about the fact that in about seven or eight hours, I’d be home with my wife and kids. I was looking forward to another accompanied tour overseas with my family. We had fun on the first one and we intended to have more fun, more travel and more happy experiences on this second one. I was a very, very happy guy. Standing in line to order my Big Mac and fries, I began to study the patrons. There were a couple of teenagers sharing a big Coke and munching fries, an elderly couple eating a meal, four or five single males consuming whatever and a young mother with her young daughter finishing off a coffee and a coke. As I was preparing to step up and order from a young teenage girl behind the bar, I noticed the menu board on the wall high up in front of me. It had changed since I last saw one. Like I said, I was a happy guy, and my eyes fell on “Happy Meal.” “Yes Sir,” she said. I hesitated a second. “Your order sir?” she added. “Give me a Happy Meal,” I said.

Without any hesitation, not batting an eyelash, she turned and assembled a little box. Then, she placed some items inside the little box and attached a string to its handle with a little pink helium filled balloon floating at the other end of the string. She placed the box with pink balloon attached and the little cup of Coke on a tray and told me the price. As I sheepishly paid her, I noticed from the slanted mirror on the wall that every patron in the place was looking at me. I was pretty much embarrassed and really wanted to have her take it all back. But it was too late. The big bad Marine had purchased a child’s meal with a pink balloon floating above it.

I turned with the tray and its contents, looked everyone in the eye, and walked (actually marched) over to the young mother and her daughter. The mother was in her early twenties, and her daughter was seven or eight years old. I stopped in front of them and slid the tray in front of the child. “Here, kid. Compliments of the Unite States Marine Corps.” The young mother said to her daughter, “What do you say, Kathy?” “Thank you,” she quietly said. “I promised myself that this was the first thing I would do when I returned home. Have a good day, kid,” I said as I departed the establishment.

I made a bee line down the street, hailed a cab, and returned to the airport. The vaulted Marine Corps reputation intact. I got my Big Mac in San Diego.




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