Way back when before my white collar turned blue, I used to sit at a small cubicle with a telephone in the right hand corner and an out and in box to my left. I had a shelf with a stack of mainly unorganized papers, drawers filled with sample cards, customer orders, pending samples, sample orders, and a call sheet for new clients so that I could open new accounts. I was 26 years-old in a suit and tie job. I was a salesman during a tough time just before the garment industry took huge turn in a different direction.
My sales were down and my desk was a wreck. I wasn’t making my ends meet and the money wasn’t what I had hoped it to be. And after a morning yelling (or two) by my boss who literally knew me from the time I was born, I was called in to have another sit-down conversation.
We were at the end of July in the summer of 1998. Much of the Europe closes for the month of August, which made the surrounding months a tough time for my orders and delivery dates.
Most of my goods came from Italian factories that had long lead times of 6-8 weeks. As it was, delivery times are tricky enough—let alone, dealing with factory closures due to vacation. Getting delivery was one thing; however, delivery deal with color or shading variations that came in differently from the original sample that was shown on the original garment. This was a nightmare . . .
If it wasn’t enough for me to break through to the designers; even if the picked up my samples and my samples made the line, I still had to follow through with a production manager and hope my styles weren’t knocked off by another factory in the Orient or given to someone else in my competition.
There was very little left in the dignity of a client’s word or handshake and there was even less to the dignity of doing business. No, it was a cutthroat time in a cutthroat industry. And me, I was too busy fumbling over my own two feet and too busy getting in my own way to ever be a success here.
I recall this time very clearly for reasons more pertinent than say, the dignity of doing business or a shelf in the stockroom that filled with 80,000 gross of a metal coat buttons, which was my biggest order ever. I called it my biggest order but it was also my biggest loss because the customer decided not to take the goods. And why? Just because . . .that’s why.
I remember this time more so because of a movie that came out known as Saving Private Ryan.
I went through a series of semi-fortunate months with orders that brought in a little extra commission; however, in my ignorance of youth and haste of expectancy, I believed that once I made the connection, I would always have this connection. But I was wrong.
I suffered a series of losses. I lost a relationship with one of my biggest accounts. I was in the middle of being beaten by a series of new prospects that would do nothing more than berate me on the phones; meanwhile, as much as I wanted to yell back, all I could do was be polite and say things like, “Thank you,” after being cursed at.
I was beaten. I was tired of the cold-calling and painfully awkward sales calls that never went my way. I was drained from the long list of rejection. I was both on again and off again with a girlfriend at the time, which in fairness, she deserved better than being hostage to me at an angry point in my young life’s frustration.
Meanwhile, it seemed my other friends and anyone else I knew was doing well. Some of the people I knew went into their family’s business or they opened one of their own. To me, it seemed as if everyone had money in their pockets and that everyone knew what they were doing—everyone, except for me, that is.
No, I was lost at the time. I was angry and uncomfortable, frustrated and doubtful. I was tired of selling and tired of the back and forth arguments with clients and bosses.
I was tired of another salesman who I will name as Ira and describe him as an oddly dressed, thin, older man with an outdated style, feathery, fro-like and outdated haircut with a creepy mustache, and a strange deep sounding rhythm in his voice.
Mainly friendly but often intrusive and argumentative with me on occasion, Ira was another salesman that was somewhat known in the industry and somewhat unhappy with my preferential treatment. Like me, Ira struggled to gt out of his own way at times. However, Ira was a little bit less likable than me . .
I swear on one occasion that one of my bosses (all of them were like family to me) was thinking about throwing Ira out of the 17th floor window. This man, more like a brother to me; his jaw locked tight, eyes watery with an angry glaze about to expose the red flames from hell. I recall this well.
I recall the way my boss Adam’s fist clenched because of Ira called one of his clients to sell and interrupt a multi-million dollar account. I swear Adam thought of gangling Ira’s thin-framed body from the window. I know he wanted to hear Ira scream and flail his scrawny arms while Ira’s feathery-like curled up hair waved helplessly upside down.
But this was just another day in the office . . . and furthermore, I was done with this whole uptight and intense scene. I couldn’t compete anymore. I was recently arrested for choking one of the carriers from D.H.L. because the man threatened to fight me, which he did and that was wring —only, since the threats were just verbal and I was the one that became physical; it was me that was arrested
I suppose it was fair to say that I felt defeated at the time. I never thought I would find my way or become anything close to financially successful. A few of my friends lived in nice apartments in the city and I was living on a basement. And although the home I lived in was a loving place and that basement is attributed to some of the best years of my life, I felt a lack of prestige and a lack of success.
Meanwhile, back to the significance of the button place, I was about to sit down with one of my bosses for another meeting on my ability and my inability to sell up to my potential. My boss was an amazing man—more like an uncle to me, I always felt, and he was brilliant in every sense of the word.
He was a hero of mine and I say this with all certainty, but he was tough as well. Trust me on this. And his name was Harvey.
Harvey knew me since birth. And with the world being the way it is and with paths that split, only to overlap at a later date, it was fate that brought us back together. I worked for Harvey and Adam for a few years. I had my ups and downs, but Harvey was a good man to me. He was tough—but fair, funny, and Harvey definitely had a way with words to keep me on my toes.
Sitting in his office, Harvey asked me to come in, shut the door, and sit down. These were never good conversations, —especially not when Harvey told me to shut the door. But this time was different.
Harvey had asked what I did over the weekend. I explained about the movie, Saving private Ryan, which Harvey had seen as well. This was an intense movie about World War II.
Harvey asked if I remember the opening scene, which, of course I did because not only was the opening emotional, by far, this had to be the most intense beginning to any movie I have ever seen.
The scene opens up with gun boats approaching the beaches at Normandy where upon a hill, shooting downward from high and beneficial position, Nazi troops chatted down machine gun fire on the men who stormed the beach. One by one, the boats pulled up and the forward plank fell down—and as soon as it did, bullets sprayed the men to their death. There were only three options for the men storming the beach. The first option was to be shot. The second was to drown in the sea, and the third option was to make their way and storm the beach.
Again, in my small-mindedness, I thought I was beaten. I swore that I was a failure. I had low self-esteem and no faith in my ability. I swore that the entire world was against me but in fairness, the truth behind my adversity was nothing in comparison to a soldier’s
When Harvey asked about the movie, I wasn’t thinking about how this conversation related to my life. As lovingly as a father could offer advise, Harvey discussed the opening scene. He talked about the bodies of dead soldiers on the beach. He talked about the sounds of explosions and the chaos that was not optional and unavoidable.
“They only had three choices,” Said Harvey.
“Either they were shot, drowned, or they made the beach.”
Then Harvey asked, “Which one would you have been if you were on that boat?”
“Or better yet, which one would you have wanted to be? Would you want to be shot, drown, or make the beach?”
This was not just about me and my sales ability.
“I’m telling you because this is how life is,” explained Harvey.
I never forgot this conversation. And although my time with that company ended shortly after, my old bosses still remain family to this day.
That being mentioned, the question at hand is relative and it is certainly relative on this day, Memorial Day, May 28th 2018.
I don’t know who I would have been in the situation at Normandy. I am not sure what kind of soldier I would have been. Today, however, I am thinking of the men and women who faced battles like this. I am thinking of a friend of mine who wears a bracelet with the names of his friends that died beside him in Afghanistan.
I am thinking of the men and women who returned from the war in Vietnam and didn’t even hear so much as “Welcome home.” And to them or to anyone who fought and served, I say this to you: “Welcome home.”
I understand thanking a soldier for their service is the right thing to do. But nothing beats the words, “Welcome home.” After all, our home is what they fought for. Their homes, their lives, and their family’s life were put on hold while those in the armed services served.
I don’t know what kind of soldier I would have been. I am not sure what I would have been like on the boats that stormed the beaches at Normandy or what I would have been like at the 38th Parallel in Korea.
I am not sure what I would have been like in places like Cambodia or Vietnam and I don’t know how brave I would have been. I suppose one never knows until faced with such an event.
I’, not sure if I could have been the kind of man I needed to be to survive those places. However, with all my heart and in all humility, I say to you thank you for your service and above all, “Welcome home!”
There are those of course, whose graves are sadly unknown. There are those who never had the chance to return to their families. There are those who died in combat and those who died a little bit each day since their time of service. As well, there are those who made it back but could not rid themselves from the moral injuries or forget the horrid smells of things like gunfire and burning flesh.
I am not writing this to you as a matter of opinion or on behalf of any political section. No, I am writing this on behalf of me, a son of a man born on this day, May 28th 1929. Ronald M. Kimmel.
My Father volunteered with the Army Air corps at the end of WWII. And somewhere hidden in boxes is a picture that belonged to The Old Man. This is a picture of men in uniform and returning home. Written on the white border at the bottom of the in the old black and white photo are the words, “The Boys!”
I don’t know anything about the men in that picture. I don’t know what they saw or where they saw it. I only they know they served, came home, and there is a picture I have of them sitting at a table with pitchers of beer, cigars in hand, mugs filled with froth at the top, and beautiful “Pin-up” like girls surrounding them, adoring them, and sitting on their lap.
I am proud of this picture.
And I am proud to say that my Father served our Country
America, I will always remember and I will never surrender.
I understand the fabric that weaves your flag is woven from the souls that gave everything just so you can fly free.
And today, I remember them
God Bless, them all