I was standing in line at The Cookie Jar, waiting to pay my lunch tab. Three young women in military uniforms were standing in line behind me, waiting to pay their bills. The Cookie Jar offers a discount to military service members and their families. It’s a local, family-owned restaurant with tasty food (I found a great black bean veggie burger) and you guessed it: delicious cookies. (I’m a fan of the oatmeal coconut chocolate chip.)

An older man walked up to the three women and asked if he could pay for their lunches. The three women declined, politely. “Thank you, sir. No sir.”

I listened then added my two cents.

“It’s Veterans Day on Thursday, ladies. Thank you for your service. Let the gentleman pay for your meals.”

“It’s our duty, ma’am,” one woman said of their service.

They continued to decline.  I suppose it’s potentially awkward to accept such an invitation from a strange man. I sensed his intentions were honorable.

It’s also elegantly simple: Accept the man’s kind gesture. I caught the eye of one of the women and nodded my head.

The women handed over their tabs. “Thank you, sir.” “Thank you, sir.” “Thank you, sir.”  They slipped out the door and into their cars, heading back to nearby Fort Wainwright, I assume.

I asked the man what inspired him to make the offer.

“I’m a veteran. It’s something I wanted to do.”

Rusty Hammond served as a medic and an infantryman in the U.S. Army from 1959 to 1966. He now works for Trans Alaska Pipeline.

“I have a good job so why shouldn’t I pick up their tabs?”

It’s a habit, apparently. “We’ve done that in the past,” Hammond said, stating that when he eats out with his colleagues, they always take the opportunity to pay for meals for servicemen and women.

Hammond does it as a way of honoring their service…and to say thank you.

“Everybody needs a reminder,” he said.

Hammond is a regular at The Cookie Jar, said Jeff Morgan, the cashier.

The total tab:  $50.74.

Value of his gesture: Priceless