For the past few years, I’ve found myself responding to many “thanks for your service” statements. After responding countless times, I decided to crunch the gist of my replies into a single statement wherein I attempt to describe what drives vets to become vets and who truly should be thanked.
Any day of the year it is common to hear, “thank you for your service.” Many times, this is said without thought or true feeling, akin to the reflexive “how ‘ya doin.” To those of us that are at the receiving end of the thank you for your service comment, we can easily tell if you mean it or not. So, if the thanks is out of habit or a sense of obligation, it is best unsaid. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it. If you do say it and mean it, we know.
To those that mean it, please understand, while we truly appreciate the sentiment, your thanks is not necessary because we have our own metrics that give merit to our sense of who we are and what we accomplished. Consequently, Vets don’t require or expect a thanks for their service. Quiet, honest service is its own and best reward. A real thanks, honestly expressed, is deeply welcomed, for sure, especially if the Vet served on any number of foreign battlefields, so very from far from family and home.
And most Vets view their service as a calling, not a job. It is something they were born to do.
What is often forgotten on Memorial Day or Veteran’s day is the Veteran’s family. By many measures, the family left behind suffers at least as much, or more, as the serviceman. Daily, hourly, the family wonders if their loved one is okay or hurt, or worse. That is a mental pain that goes unnoticed and, in my view, unappreciated. The families are as much a veteran as the one who served. They served, just in a different way.
When the Vet deploys, who runs the home, pays the bills, calls the plumber, cuts the grass, raises the children, and does hundreds of small and large chores to ensure the home-fires keep burning? The spouse. Running your family is hard even when both spouses are at home. It is especially difficult when doing this alone.
My wife of 44-yrs suffered through my many deployments, and during Gulf War I. I was a forward air controller with the US Army. I knew where I was and what I was doing, and the risks. She, on the other hand, had no such information and by not knowing anything she suffered greatly, especially since she knew I was in the war and on the ground, in the front with the US Army and not protected by my A-10 titanium-wrapped cockpit. More than once she woke up in the middle of the night and turned on the TV, hoping she might see me while at the same time, hoping not to.
My wife was at a church event when the pastor called her aside and broke the news that Gulf War I began. She cried and then they prayed. My 10-yr old son dealt with this news differently. He went to a nearby classroom, found some toys and soon the room was filled with sounds of a little boy making war noises as he fought beside me. After the war, when I heard their reactions, it broke my heart and underscores the fact they suffered alongside me.
Basically, Memorial Day and Veterans Day celebrates the warrior. But let there be no doubt, the families also served God and country.
Flower Mound, TX