How do we appreciate a Veteran?

Understanding and relationships may be the key to showing appreciation to our service people and Veterans.


This writer retired this year from 22 years in the Navy. He is married to a beautiful wife of eight years and they have a precious five-year-old daughter.

Discussing appropriate appreciation from civilians towards active duty service members, or Veterans, is not something I ever expected to write about.

I have the good fortune of being enlisted before, and after, 9/11.  I say this because prior to 9/11, the war on terror, it seemed expressions of gratitude were rare. I typically only saw civilian gratitude on Veterans Day.  After 9/11 I experienced people thanking me more often and I really didn’t know how to respond. I also found it strange people would say thank you, and not wait for my response. After a while, I decided my best response would be an acknowledgement of their gratitude.

So, what would I like to hear from civilians? I don’t really need to hear anything. What I need is your understanding; understanding takes education and time. Do what you can to really comprehend what it means to volunteer for service that could mean consequences that aren’t made in most civilian jobs. Try to understand what it means to volunteer for something that has you live and train with a group that are, in ways, closer than your own family. And then, possibly, say goodbye to them in ways no one outside the military could grasp.

holding-flagThe people that take the time to thank us, are not wrong for what, or how they do it. But, it may be a double-edge sword. Saying “thank you” may be assuming more than you know. When someone says, “thank you,” I feel it’s implied understanding of the task it took. And in saying “thank you” to a service member who has lost friends and/or to someone who had to kill in duty, could run a chance of sounding token or ignorant.

I can’t really tell you how to treat veterans without offending them. We are all different. But, here are some ways I came up with to show gratitude:

  1. I would like to see more people educating themselves. Try to learn what it truly means to serve.
  2. I would ask for people to educate themselves on policies that make sense and then vote.
  3. And finally, if a person really wants to help, go to a Veterans’ Retirement Home … sit and listen to someone who most of our country has forgotten.
  4. The last thing I would say is, never forget. As long as there are countries of people, there will always be a need for people to sacrifice their lives to defend them.

This writer works is retired from 20 years in the Marines. He is married with a baby on the way. Additionally, he and his wife work hard to homeschool and raise their 12-year-old daughter.

dog-tagVeterans are an intriguing group—we know you want to know our story. Our story is an interesting one and we love to tell it. But, sharing with civilians often times leaves us feeling pitied, judged, or like an outcast. Someone who doesn’t understand the Veteran experience can end up making missteps in their quest for understanding.

I grew up in a military family, my father and mother both served in the military. My father served a tour in Vietnam. Around 12 years-old, I asked my father a question, that to me seemed very simple, “Dad, when you were over in Vietnam did you kill any women or children?” I could see that was a tough question for my father—he seemed noticeably uncomfortable.  There was a long pause between my asking the question and the answer, so long that I thought it might not come. With a choked up sound in his voice and a glaze in his eyes, my father looked up at me. Then with intention and kindness, while fighting back, what seemed like a hurt long forgotten, he said, “Son … I shot at anyone who shot at me.”  He said nothing more … his words were very impactful and I have never forgot them.

Think how hard it was for him to be vulnerable with his own son. Now imagine what it would be like if someone less familiar asked this question. I never truly understood his words until I too was faced with the same challenges and similar questions. With that, my advice would be, build a relationship first with the Veteran and then maybe you can ask the questions … or find there is no need to ask such questions.

Should you want to do more, below are a few ways to thank a Veteran, and a few areas to steer away from.

  1. Spend time and get to know one. Ask to know about us not what we have done, we are more than the sum of the things we have done.
  2. Say, “Thank you for your service.” So we can say, “You are welcome.” Or say, “We support you.” Because we desperately need to know that you do support us.
  3. Remember our families. The strength it takes for our family members while we are gone is immeasurable. Knowing someone is watching out for the safety of our families gives us peace of mind when we are away.
  4. Stay away from back-handed gratitude. “Thank you for your service, but I don’t think we should have been there in the first place.”
  5. Don’t ask the inappropriate question, “Have you ever shot/killed anyone?”
  6. Don’t ask, “What is the worst thing you have seen/done in war?”
  7. Don’t ask them if they have Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Not everyone has PTSD and if we do we’re still people, not cyborgs.


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