The Time I Helped a Vietnam Vet

Stories from my life in retail

Once upon a time, I worked for the now-defunct Hecht’s department store. I love shopping, so it only seemed natural to help others do the same. 

I took great pride in this job, realizing that I made a bit more than minimum wage, and it was the nicest department store in my town. I approached my work with the understanding that every customer deserved respect, and it always brought me great joy to help someone find that perfect outfit or gift. 

The Christmas shopping season was particularly hectic in retail, but I enjoyed working the holiday season on my breaks when I was home from college. 

One day, I had been assigned to work in the ladies’ lingerie department. In walked a man who looked like your stereotypical Vietnam vet. As I lived in a military town, this wasn’t that unusual. He had long hair and a seriously long beard; he wore a military camo jacket and a band around his head. 

He looked as confused as he did disheveled, so I politely asked him if he was looking for something in particular. His steely demeanor immediately changed. Indeed, he was looking for a gift. His mother had recently moved to a nursing home, and she needed some nightgowns. 

As a future physical therapist, I had a few more questions. I asked about her shoulder range of motion. I asked if she was frequently cold. I asked if the facility would be doing her laundry in the big commercial machines, or if someone took her laundry home. 

The answers led me to select the perfect gown. Long-sleeved, long length, made of a warm but sturdy knit fabric, with a few functional buttons to allow for less stretching of your arms when donning it. The only problem? It was expensive: around $80. This was in the 1990s. Even by today’s standards, this was a lot of money!

I made some suggestions of other stores in the mall where he could look, but with the satisfaction that at least he was armed with greater knowledge of what he needed. I figured I’d never see him again.

But about two hours later, my friend returned. He said he was so disappointed with the help he received in the other stores that he came back to buy two of those gowns from me. I felt honored!

I happily sold him the items, wrapped them up, added a couple of gift boxes, placed them in a fancy shopping bag, and sent him on his way.

That was one of my first lessons in understanding the power I had in customer service. Many of the lessons I learned and practiced in interacting with customers have proven worthwhile in working with my patients.

Everyone should work retail at some point in their young adulthood. It’s a valuable experience, and you will definitely have a greater sense of empathy and patience toward those who do. You may even learn a thing or two about how to help others.

It just goes to show that listening, showing a bit of care, and treating people like they matter, well, matters


Have you ever worked in retail? Did you learn some lessons in how to interact with others through your work? I’d love to hear about it!

I will be sharing more stories about my life in retail. I hope you enjoy these tales!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

Published by annecreates

I am a physical therapist, wife, mom, runner, artist, and vegan. I'm passionate about helping others find wellness, speaking about the human experience, and in fighting for social justice. Assistant Coach for the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. Current ambassador for: Boco Gear, SaltStick, SPIbelt, Goodr, Noxgear, and Switch4Good.

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