I immediately noticed the biker when I walked into McDonald’s with the production crew. He sported a full, unkempt grey beard, stood just shy of 6-feet tall, and had a barrel chest. The red felt hillbilly hat he wore seemed out of place with the patch-covered black leather biker’s jacket, camo-print shirt, combat boots, and the cut off green fatigues that stopped just below the top of his boots.
I watched him add something—cream, sugar, or both—to his coffee, and then settle in alone at the table near the window.
While the rest of the crew waited for their food, my friend Marc and I walked back to the table across from the biker. Marc stopped at the biker’s table, turned to me and said, “Let me introduce you to this gentlemen. He’s the guy who is loaning us his bike for the shoot.”
The biker stood up, flashed a big smile, stretched out his hand, and said, “Pleased to meet you.” He had a firm handshake and looked me in the eye as we shook. We talked briefly and I thanked him for loaning us the bike.
“I’d do anything for you guys. That’s a fine organization you work for,” the biker said.
He sat down again and was joined by the actor who would ride his bike briefly in the video. They talked about motorcycles while we all ate and rested briefly.
After lunch, the biker rode to the set location on an older model Harley Davidson Fatboy, personally customized with hiking sticks, tent poles, and a leather rifle holster—complete with a what I think was a fake rifle—attached to the handlebars. A real tomahawk hung on the left side of the bike, attached to the saddlebag. With his large goggles, the skull helmet, and his decked out bike he looked menacing when he pulled onto the set. His license plate read, “AT WAR.”
He got off the bike, took off his helmet and said, “If you need me to take anything off the bike, I don’t have a problem with it. Just let me know what you don’t want.”
Before I could answer, Marc said, “Let’s take off anything that looks like a weapon.”
The biker stripped the bike of all weapons and weapon-like things, and then he reached into the right saddlebag and pulled out a cantaloupe. He took out the large, fixed blade knife that was hanging from his belt, sliced off the top of the melon, and cut out the seeds. He wiped the blade on his pant leg and returned it to the sheath on his belt, reached into the saddlebag again, and took out a serving spoon.
“I’ve got some bananas in there, too,” he said with a grin while motioning to the saddlebags with his shaking spoon before digging into the cantaloupe.
He stayed with the production crew for about four hours as we shot the video. Sometime during the shoot, the heat got better of him and he took of his vest and shirt. I saw a large American flag tattoo covering most of the right side of his chest and noted that he was in pretty good shape to be a man who I guessed to be about 60 years old.
“I graduated from high school in 1966,” he told me. “I served in the military; did over 200 jumps. The National Guard has been good to me and my family.”
“I tried to get them to let me do a little cameo part in your video, you know. But, they just weren’t interested,” he said smiling.
“Where are all the pretty girls?” he asked. “I don’t want to touch them or anything. I’m happily married. I just like being around them.” He laughed and his eyes seem to twinkle at the thought.
He asked what I did again and why were were making the video. We made some more small talk and as we were wrapping-up the shoot, I went to my car and picked out an extra branded t-shirt and a couple of patches to give to him as a small token of thanks.
“I don’t suppose you’re much of a t-shirt wearer are you?” I asked as I handed him the shirt and patches.
“No, but I’m not going to turn down your generosity. Thank you. You know, I put all my t-shirts in a box and my kids take them out and wear them. They’ll get good use. These patches I’ll put with my collection.”
I pulled a Good Turn coin out of my right pocket. I explained how and why it’s used and I gave it to him as I thanked him for his good deeds that day and for his service.
“Oh, it’s your coin, huh? What’s your name again?” he asked.
“David Harkins,” I said. I remembered his name.
“David Harkins,” he repeated slowly.
He put his hand in his front pocket and started fishing for something.
“I have a pocket full of condoms,” he said. “I’ve already called my wife and told her to expect a party when I get home.” He let go of a belly laugh so full and loud the crew recording sound 200 feet away shushed us and reminded us we were on a live set.
He pulled something from his pocket, took my hand and pulled it forward from my side.
He said, “I want you to have this David Harkins,” and with respect he placed an object in my palm. When he took away his hand, I saw his challenge coin.
The front read, “The Green Berets – To Fight So Others May Remain Free” and the back carried the Special Forces Airborne logo and 2b Bn 19th SFG (A).
It’s said that challenge coins were originated by the Army Air Corp and were used as a means of identification and allegiance when Airmen were caught behind enemy lines without identification. I understand these coins are largely ceremonial now, used to recognize achievement and support, or to enhance morale. Still, it’s considered an honor by those in the military to receive one, especially when presented by a high-ranking officer.
I never asked his rank or where he served. It didn’t matter. In that moment, a military veteran—a Green Beret—with over 200 jumps to his credit and one who had likely faced things in his life I will never dream about, thought enough of me and my service to America’s youth that he wanted to thank me using a tradition that held great meaning to him.
I was so moved I could barely thank him. I’ve never received a greater honor from anyone.
I’m not sure I ever will.