Last Veteran’s Day, in a room of 3,000 people, my daughter goaded me to stand up and be recognized. “Dad you’re a veteran, why aren’t you standing?” I had no answer at the moment, but now I do.
The headline in Newsweek read:
VETERANS ‘UNCOMFORTABLE’ WITH ‘THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE…’
The word “uncomfortable” fit me like a custom-made glove, but why… I clicked on the title and dove in. It turns out that veterans are from Mars, and most Americans are from Venus. According to a recent poll, 49 percent of active and former members of the armed services feel uneasy with the expression “Thank you for your service.” But get this, 91 percent of Americans use the expression and this disconnect leads to a profound social question, “WTF?”
Apparently most veterans see these five words as meaningless — you know, a platitude like:
- “Have a nice day.”
- “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”
- “Enough about me, what’s happening with you?”
- “What a perfect birthday gift.”
The article offered comments from vets on what would be more meaningful to them. You can read the full article and their comments here.
For me, the discomfort comes out of feeling like an impostor — a fair weather warrior — a fake vet. Yes, I did serve six years in the Air Force and spent many 100+ degree days in a suffocating radome troubleshooting navigation systems. And yes, I still remember months on the flight line in cryonic cold temperatures where it felt like my body was about to be flash-frozen for future revival. But all of that pales in comparison to the vets who gave up their lives, limbs and mental health so that we can be blissfully and naively free to do whatever makes us happy and fulfilled. Free to limit our proof of patriotism to standing during the national anthem, flying a flag, and using those five words as we pass a servicewoman on the way to Starbucks, Walmart or the ball game.
Every time I see a young man or woman in uniform now, I think about all those who took that oath. “I am an American fighting man, I’m prepared to give my life.” I’m keenly aware that as I write this there is a marine, soldier, airman or sailor somewhere in harm’s way. Some young teen paying the price for our freedom. They are tomorrow’s vets who will become part of the one percent of Americans who actually had to prove their commitment to our country. Surely, we owe them more than five words and an annual parade.
A Meaningful Thank You
Six years in the Air Force gave me a practical appreciation for the ideas and ideals that have defined the United States of America. I met, bunked with, worked with, and came of age with people who were nothing like me. I learned what it meant to be on the same national team and why discipline and fidelity to those ideas matter. I learned that freedom is not free and I think we all have a role to play in passing these ideals to the next generation.
Candidly, I’m surprised by how many schools are not closed today. I’m told that of those that are open, some sort of recognition of vets is on the agenda. In these unprecedented times, when half of the country often despises the other half. When hating other Americans has become a national past time, perhaps the most meaningful thing we can do on Veterans Day is to replace the glib thanks with meaningful action. Push back on the normalization of hate. Spend a little time talking to someone on the other side of your ideological divide. Start a conversation about what it will take to put us back on the path of striving to be the “one nation” our veterans fought and sacrificed to preserve. I know, that’s a big, risky ask, but it pales in comparison to what our veterans were asked to do. And they delivered…