by A.M. Kinross
This week I tuned into a local talk radio station on my ride home from work and heard an interview conducted where veterans got to discuss what it means when they hear the words, “Thank you for your service.” Their responses were shocking to me as a civilian. I always thought the polite thing to say was, “Thank you for your service.” I always thought that expression would let them know that I am grateful for what they are doing, or for what they have done for our country, but the veterans who were being interviewed in this particular program surprised me with their response when asked, “How does it make you feel when someone says, “Thank you for your service?” The majority of them agreed that it made them feel like they were being compared to someone who works in fast food, and had just handed someone food out of a window. Like they are “servicing someone.” They said it made them feel like the public doesn’t really want to know what they’ve done (with their service) or what they’ve been through, but that they simply want to generically thank them for servicing them. But I was even more surprised to hear one of them say that the catchphrase, “Thank you for your service” is more of a conversation ender than a conversation starter, and that they’re left not knowing how to respond because deep down they feel the person saying it to them doesn’t want to hear their story anyway. It’s kind of like saying “Good morning. How are you?”, but then not waiting to find out what the response is. While the opinions of these veterans were surprising to me, it also made a lot of sense. I think as someone who has never served our country, I wouldn’t know what they’ve gone through. I’ve seen movies, and heard stories, and read articles about the horrors of war, and our soldiers struggles during war, and also when they come home from active duty, but me saying “Thank you for your service”, doesn’t really say exactly what I mean in my heart. It is a conversation ender, because I don’t follow that statement up with, “What did you do for the military?”, or “Where were you stationed when you served?”, or “How are you doing now that you’re back home?”
I recently watched a movie titled Megan Leavey and was reduced to tears over her true story experience while “serving our country” and her fight to give her war K-9 companion a proper retirement. In watching this story I could see how the better greeting would be to say, “Thank you for your sacrifice.” I know now after hearing these soldiers feelings about that popular catchphrase, that the least we can do if we’re going to say anything at all is to let it be a conversation starter. I’m sure that every veteran has a story to tell that will leave you truly grateful for their sacrifice.
I wrote a poem more than twenty years ago for one particular veteran that lived in my community, and to this day I can’t read it out loud without getting choked up, because it was written knowing his story. So if you know a veteran, please share it with them, and if you haven’t already, maybe take the time to hear their story before you do.
“Thank You Dear Veteran,
Please forgive those who do not understand the pain you have suffered while defending our land. Please forgive those who have cast you aside, or made you feel worthless or striped of your pride, for they did not see the horrors you saw, and it wasn’t their friends who would so tragically fall, but much more than that you defended our rights, and gave us a sense of security on the darkest of nights. Please know in your heart the difference you’ve made, and that many of us know the great price that you’ve paid, and if it weren’t for all of the brave soldiers like you there would be no need to extend our sincerest thank you.” – A M Kinross
Happy Veteran’s Day.