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Who I Met at the Tea Party: A Veterans Day Tribute

2:55 PM, Nov 11, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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Gruss speaks about the war and his lost friends freely, perhaps because he enjoys paying tribute to them, and probably partly because of the distance of time. While I listened to him, he was approached by a woman from a nearby crowd of protesters-a tanned, middle-aged woman in striking green and purple, with long, brown hair.

"You were with the 303rd? I saw the flag from over there and I had to come check," she said, as he nodded, smiling. "I was in Iraq, and the first person we lost was with the 303rd," she said, choking up.

She shook his hand, thanked him for his service, and they shared a short, sad silence for American heroes, lost two generations apart. She hurried away, and I didn't want to spoil their conversation by asking for her information, so I regret I don't know what her name was.

While I sat with Mr. Gruss, a stream of Tea Party protesters-couples, young families, grandparents, teachers-walked by Gruss' bench as they left the Capitol complex. Most of them stopped to shake his hand, thank him for his service, or take pictures with a duck-calling American hero and the tattered flag of the 303rd.

We were all lucky to meet him.