I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of questions, both about veterans and for them. I hear and read a lot about them, especially in the days leading up to Veterans’ Day. This year, rather than merely wonder what my fellow veterans think, I decided to conduct a survey. Done through Google Forms, and various social media sites, it is about as informal as they come, but responses were passionate and specific, from both male and female veterans, from all branches of service, active and reserve. What follows may surprise you.
Parts one and two are linked below:
Survey Responses from Veterans that may surprise you: (part one) Wishes
Survey Responses, part two: What Veterans Want Others to Know
One of my burning questions for Veterans has always been:
When people want to thank you for your service, how would you like them to show their gratitude? What is most meaningful for you?
Many stated that a simple thank you is best and goes a long way, "a genuine thank you is good enough" or is "usually fine", and a simple handshake added to it all is a bonus. They are adamant that they don't do what they do to have things given to them, that they don't feel they deserve any special treatments, but they do want respect for their service. Most consider it an honor, a duty, and a privilege to serve.
Others simply implored not to thank them and expected or wanted "nothing" as thanks. Quite a few "prefer not to be thanked at all", saying they didn't serve for the thanks, or they just don't feel like they need to be thanked. Period. Some admit they don't like to be thanked because they don't feel like they ever did anything heroic or out of the norm--but then added a "simple thank you is sufficient". Still more advised they don't feel they need thanks, that more often than not it comes off as an empty gesture anyways, or makes them feel self-conscious or awkward. Not all soldiers are perfect, or above reproach or criticism, so don't believe the myths that we are all perfectly infallible patriotic paragons. Many of us, in fact, join the military because we aren't perfect. We are still human beings.
They claim heartily that actions speak louder than words, which leads us into what I absolutely love:
Overwhelmingly, military personnel, whether active, reserve, retired, and from any branch, want action from you, from us. Show, don't tell us your thanks. Saying thank you is fine, but giving back in some form matters more.
Not sure how to do that? They provided plenty of examples, and I'll share just a handful of those here to get you thinking about what you can do. Keep in mind that many of the respondents mentioned how blessed and fortunate they are in their lives, while recognizing that many of their brethren are not. So, remember your good fortune, and help us add to the list of how to thank a vet:
- Thank us by caring for the wounded and the families of the dead and wounded.
- Help a homeless vet with a meal, some money, or a listening ear.
- Donate your time, talent or treasure to a veterans' organization.
- A handshake, a hug, the acknowledgment of female vets as well as their male counterparts, and no terrible comments about women in YOUR military.
- Don't bad mouth America and correct others who say ignorant things about our country.
- Respect our country's flag.
- People, ALL people, are capable of change. Refrain from judging others when you don't know all the circumstances.
- Support Veterans in need by standing up for veteran policy and benefits, and help all these veterans who are struggling day to day.
- Don't be embarrassed to love your country.
- Vote (please) and be active in one's community.
- BE KIND TO OTHER PEOPLE. Offer compassion to people, especially to people who look, talk, and think differently than you. "I wore a uniform so that people, all people, every single person in our country, had the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. Trying to curtail those freedoms because you don't agree with someone else's opinion is a slap in my face."
- When you see an elderly person wearing a VFW, American Legion, or DAV hat, think of how they came to be wearing that. Listen to their stories. Hug them or shake their hands. You will be amazed not at what it does for them, but what it does for you.
- Remember, and take the time to think about, what veterans have done, sacrificed, seen, and experienced to be where they are at now, positive and negative aspects alike.
In my conversations with veterans and fellow soldiers, I'm heartened by their constant reprise that it's not about them, that the lessons they have learned highlight the importance of taking action and in essence, paying the goodness forward.
These responses were my favorite encapsulations of several responses, and they are not only ways to thank a veteran, but also to lead by example, to teach our kids, to make sense of life when it is confusing:
"Live a life worthy of the sacrifices made to secure your freedoms."
"The world is our child. Go out and do what it takes to make a difference, to make this world a better place. "The gestalt of responses showed pride in being a veteran, for having served in the military, and for learning skills that otherwise would never have been learned. That pride was coupled with one caveat, though: if you don't respect our soldiers and the sacrifices they have made for others, you have no place in their presence. Respecting others' work, working to help others, and understanding that freedom is not free are the key desires voiced by veterans.
What can you add to the list? How will you thank those who have served? How can you show your gratitude for those who have paid the ultimate price for our country?
One veteran shared this video, and I encourage you to watch it. It is a haunting rendition of Mark Twain's short story entitled "War Prayer". Written during the Philippine-American War of 1889-1902, it will shift your thinking, particularly about what you wish for in time of war.
In closing, I'll leave you the thoughts of one of our soldiers:
You are worthy of your human rights by virtue of you being on this planet. We swear to defend those rights to our dying breath even though we did not give you your rights. This is important, because if the military "gave" you rights we could take them away. But this is not the American way. Your rights are inherent and nobody can take them away.
You deserve to have your rights protected. This includes the right to question needless wars our troops are sent to fight in, to support our troops, and not be any less of a patriot.
Your duty is to be mindful and help defend everyone's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, through some kind of service, whether it's in the military or another way.
So, go on. Civilian or military, we all have responsibilities for service to each other to make this world a better place. Let's go make it happen.
And that's how you thank a veteran.