ATLANTA — As beach blankets go, it wasn't a good one. It was heavy for an 8-year-old to carry. It wasn't a pretty color. The fabric was rough and itchy on my bare legs when I was wearing my swimsuit.
But when we went to the public beach near Detroit on weekends, that was the blanket we had to take.
I wanted a lightweight, colorful beach towel - with pictures of Popeye or the Lone Ranger. I didn't understand why my dad insisted on keeping the ugly green blanket he'd had for more than 15 years.
Then, one day, as we were spreading out the hot, cumbersome blanket at the beach, a man about my dad's age began unfolding a similar one for his family on the spot next to us.
My dad and the stranger gave each other a brief nod of recognition - the way I might have acknowledged a kid whom I recognized from school but whose name I didn't know.
"I guess these things are still good for something," my dad said nonchalantly to the stranger.
"Yep," said the man.
Even then, I could see they shared something more than the same-color blanket.
Looking back on this scene, I realize that those olive drab blankets were the World War II veterans' equivalent of a secret handshake.
My dad didn't need to say, "At 21 I was flying a four-engine bomber."
And the stranger saw no reason to tell of his war experiences.
This was how men of his generation expressed their pride - quietly and subtly.
• Mike Revzin is a journalist with CNN.