The naval officer looked as if he had just stepped down from a recruiting poster. He was tall, slim and handsome and had two rows of service ribbons across his chest.
He edged past me down the crowded aisle of the airport shuttle bus and stood as the bus swayed through the evening traffic.
There were no seats left, and several women were standing also. But when a seated man cleared his throat and looked up at the Navy man and asked, "Uh, would you like a seat?" it seemed normal and natural.
The naval officer was not wounded and he might never have gotten within a thousand miles of the Persian Gulf, but he was a hero nonetheless. He turned down the seat, but all of us on the bus felt better that he had been offered one.
There are winners and losers in every war, and the U.S. military has emerged a great winner from this one.
But let's take a look at some other winners and some losers, too:
WINNER: Might -- Might is right again. The '60s are over. Take the flowers out of your hair. The United States has let the world know we will not only fight for what we believe in, but we will fight until the other guy is mincemeat.
Look at the casualty figures: We may have killed or wounded about 85,000 to 100,000 Iraqis in combat. They killed or wounded about 319 Americans in combat. That's a pretty extraordinary ratio: about 300 to 1.
So America is a heavyweight again. Since Vietnam we have been like a fighter trying to regain his crown. We took on a few palookas (Grenada, Panama), but Iraq was a real contender.
And we knocked out the fourth-largest army in the world in 100 hours of ground combat. One hundred hours! You can't mail a letter from Baltimore to Los Angeles in 100 hours.
So don't mess with us. Because if you do, we will hit you so hard that when you wake up, your clothes will be out of style.
LOSER: The Soviet Union -- Their missiles stink, their tanks stink, their military advisers stink, and the only real diplomacy Mikhail Gorbachev managed was to get CBS' Bob Simon released from captivity a day early. Big deal.
And Gorbachev can forget about hanging on to Lithuania. He's going to have enough trouble hanging on to Moscow.
LOSER: The press -- Many Americans now see journalists as a bunch of whining ninnies, good only for asking brain-dead questions at military briefings.
But the military has finally learned how to deal with reporters: Use them to fool the enemy. You want to trick Saddam Hussein into thinking you're going to launch an amphibious assault on Kuwait? Leak it to CNN so Saddam can watch it.
WINNER: Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf -- We may not be able to give him a fifth star, so how about giving him a special citation and the chance of running for president in 1996? Or else he can be a governor. Of any state he wants.
LOSER: Congress -- Totally irrelevant to making war or peace. At the 11th hour, a majority voted for the war, but George Bush made clear that Congress was not giving him "approval" for the war, but merely "support" for the war. He didn't need congressional approval. He had the approval of the United Nations. And so what if that's not exactly what the Constitution had in mind. Next war, Congress is going to beg to get on the bandwagon early.
LOSER: The Democrats -- Only 86 out of 267 Democratic congressmen and only 10 out of 56 Democratic senators voted for the war. In terms of the next presidential race, the Democratic Party has ceased to exist. But the real question is: Will anybody notice?
WINNER and LOSER: Israel -- It showed restraint in not attacking Iraq, and we are grateful. But the current government shows no flexibility on the Palestinian question, and we are worried.
Don't throw away your Mideast maps.
LOSER: Any columnist who goes on vacation the day before the ground war starts -- What can I say? I bought the plane tickets way back last year before Kuwait was even a twinkle in Saddam Hussein's eye. They were non-refundable tickets, and it would have cost me $845 to eat them.
But I want you to know I spent my time working. I conducted a journalistic experiment: Is there any difference between watching the war on CNN at home or watching the war on CNN in a hotel?
Conclusion: Yes. In a hotel, you can call down for room service.
LOSERS: Two guys named Hussein -- Saddam Hussein of Iraq is a rat, but King Hussein of Jordan turns out to be a weasel.
Worst moment for King Hussein: The day he tried to explain why it was OK for the Scuds to cross Jordan to hit Israel but not OK for Israeli planes to cross Jordan to hit the Scuds.
Worst moment for Saddam Hussein: The day he was born. We're going to make him regret it ever happened.
BIG WINNER: George Bush -- Remember when they called him a wimp? Try that today and you'll be eating your teeth for Chiclets. Congress has invited Bush to speak to a joint session tonight as a way to honor him.
But if Congress really wants to honor him, all it would take is a two-thirds vote of both houses and the approval of three-fourths of the state legislatures to make George Bush president-for-life.
And in the long run, it would be cheaper. We wouldn't have to keep changing the monograms on the White House towels.