Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Glade Sun

May 29, 2013

SCOUT REPORT: How to thank a veteran

CROSSVILLE — I spent all day on Memorial Day trying to find an answer for a question that was bouncing around in the back of my mind. Earlier that morning, a friend of mine had sent me a text message that read “Thank you for your service to our country, Clint.” For some reason I found it difficult to formulate a response; perhaps because it was a personalized sentiment rather than one that was obviously sent to multiple recipients. I wanted to respond in kind to his sincere gratitude.

A product of our current wars is that it has once again become popular to thank veterans. As the heroes from Viet Nam know all to well, that was not always the case. Not to sound flippant or ungrateful for these shows of gratitude, but most of the time it seems like people are paying lip service rather than respect.

It’s important to thank soldiers because it helps them make it through long and lonely deployments. It’s important to thank veterans to show they haven’t been forgotten. Still, I always find it a little awkward when someone thanks me for my military service. It usually catches me off guard because I never expect it. I’m sure fellow veterans can relate. I mean, what do you say to that? “You’re welcome” doesn’t capture the spirit by which we serve. While I can’t speak for everyone, I think I speak for most when I say we didn’t do it for the praise. We didn’t do it just to get the GI Bill. We didn’t do it for the cool uniforms, or to get medals. We chose to serve because we believe so deeply in what our country was founded upon that we would lay down our lives to perpetuate that way of life. It is truly an honor to be a vanguard of freedom, and for those who pay the ultimate price the only gratitude sufficient is to sustain the legacy they fought for.

When I thank veterans from previous wars, I see that same awkward reaction as in myself. The older guys tend to just give a thoughtful nod, which seems to me to be the best response, though doing so via text message is impossible. I find it to be the most appropriate response because, even though I’ve been in combat, I don’t know what they personally experienced, the sacrifices they made, the friends they lost, the terrible things they’ll never forget, their scars that have yet to heal – whether they be emotional or hidden under their clothes. Despite my own experiences, it’s very difficult to properly convey gratitude to someone without really understanding what they’ve done.

When someone thanks me I usually react instinctively by saying “Thank you” with a high inflection on the “you,” but I always feel like the meaning of that response gets lost upon them. They must leave thinking “What is he thanking me for?” I thank them because they care enough to show appreciation and hope that means they care enough to protect what we’ve fought for through the political process. Though, to be honest, sometimes it bothers me because I see evidence that the American people don’t care anymore. How can you thank a soldier or veteran and then not vote? What are you thanking them for? I hear people say “I support the troops but I don’t support the cause.” The cause, for an American soldier, has always been freedom. But we’ve lost more freedom from elections than we ever have on any battlefield.

The best way to thank us is not only to exercise your right to vote, but to do so wisely. Don’t just go by campaign slogans, headlines or rhetoric. Do your research. Educate yourself in politics. Vote for liberty, not “free” stuff. Voting is the fundamental right from which all others stem and blossom. Apathetically surrendering the freedoms we fought for by allowing our government to become tyrannical is an insult worse than death.

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