The Connection Between Strangers

Miles Goodwin - Wauwatosa, Wisconsin
As heard on All Things Considered, May 1, 2006
Miles Goodwin

Returning home from a tour of duty in the Vietnam War, Miles Goodwin was touched by the compassion of a 10-year-old girl. Now an attorney in Milwaukee, Goodwin believes in giving kindness to strangers.

Age Group: 50 - 65
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

On June 23, 1970, I had just been mustered out of the Army after completing my one-year tour of duty in Vietnam. I was a 23-year-old Army veteran on a plane from Oakland, California, returning home to Dallas, Texas.

I had been warned about the hostility many of our fellow countrymen felt toward returning ‘Nam vets at that time. There were no hometown parades for us when we came home from that unpopular war. Like tens of thousands of others, I was just trying to get home without incident.

I sat, in uniform, in a window seat, chain-smoking and avoiding eye contact with my fellow passengers. No one was sitting in the seat next to me, which added to my isolation. A young girl, not more than 10 years old, suddenly appeared in the aisle. She smiled and, without a word, timidly handed me a magazine. I accepted her offering, her quiet “welcome home.” All I could say was, “Thank you.” I do not know where she sat down or who she was with because right after accepting the magazine from her, I turned to the window and wept. Her small gesture of compassion was the first I had experienced in a long time.

I believe in the connection between strangers when they reach out to one another.

That young girl undoubtedly has no memory of what happened years ago. I like to think of her as having grown up, continuing to touch others and teaching her children to do the same. I know she might have been told to give me the “gift” by her mother. Her father might still have been in Vietnam at that point or maybe he had not survived the war. It doesn’t matter why she gave me the magazine. The important thing is she did.

Since then, I have followed her example and tried, in different ways for different people, to do the same for them. Like me on that long ago plane ride, they will never know why a stranger took the time to extend a hand. But I know that my attempts since then are all because of that little girl. Her offer of a magazine to a tired, scared and lonely soldier has echoed throughout my life. I have to believe that my small gestures have the same effect on others. And to that little girl, now a woman, I would like to take this opportunity to say again, thank you.

Miles Goodwin was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Dallas. During the Vietnam War, he was a clerk for the U.S. Army headquarters outside Saigon. Goodwin says it took about 10 years after his discharge before he told people about his service there. He practiced law for forty years in Milwaukee. He now lives with his wife, Mary Jo, in the Seattle area, close to their children and grandchildren.

Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.