Thank you for your service...

That’s an expression that has now become as embedded in our culture as “Have a nice day,” whether or not we like it.  According to the New York Times, that unbiased authority on all things important in the heartland, there are young veterans who don’t.  Some NYT reporter apparently found two younger veterans who were so offended by the harmless phrase widely adopted by the American public to convey in a brief and passing way that they are grateful to the sheepdogs who protect the flock that they were willing to go on record and make themselves look like the churlish ingrates they are.

You can’t imagine how badly I wish it were possible for young warriors who share these shortsighted sentiments to be able to travel back to the time, when the veterans of my war returned to a less than grateful nation.  There was no spontaneous applause at airport gates or messages from the aircraft captain noting that we had returning troops on board, much less upgrades to first class.  No one ever quietly paid my restaurant tab to show his gratitude that I had gone into harm’s way on his behalf.  There were no veteran discounts extended by any businesses that I frequented upon my return from Vietnam.  There was mostly just wary acceptance of my presence, as if folks somehow weren’t quite sure whether they had a Fourth of July rocket or a live hand grenade in the room.

The mood of the nation was very different then.  I wish the veterans of today could get but a small taste of it so as to make them appreciate the value of having their nation squarely supporting them and their mission rather than being angrily confrontational, disparaging their service as dishonorable at the least and criminal at the worst.  I’ve heard many tales of returning Vietnam vets being spat upon, but I’ve never met a single one to whom it actually happened, so I tend to disregard such tales as apocryphal.  But the reality of our reception back into society was grim enough – an experience never shared by other American troops returning from a foreign war, before or since.

I wear my 101st Airborne and 82nd Airborne ball caps from time to time, so I get these “Thank you for your service” sentiments occasionally.  My response is always a quiet and simple “Thank you.”  No big deal, and I don’t lose sleep over whether or not the sentiment is genuine or self-gratifying, as apparently the two veterans a NYT reporter could dig up to support what I suspect was a planned narrative do.  If some young fools want to get their skivvies in a twist because they distrust the motives of grateful citizens, more power to them.  That silly spite shows they learned little from their military experiences.

My only opportunity to show my personal gratitude to a current veteran came in an encounter in the waiting line at a Walgreens liquor department in our little New Mexico ski town.  I glanced over my shoulder and saw this very buff, ski-burned young man and his pretty companion behind me.  He was carrying a twelve-pack in his good arm and cradling a half-gallon of Wild Turkey under his prosthetic arm.  I said, “Here, let me hold that for you.”  And then, gesturing to his now empty prosthesis, I said, “Get that in the Sand Box?”  He grinned, looking at my Airborne cap, sizing up my age, and said nothing more than “Yeah.”  When I got to the register, I included his Turkey on my bill and handed it back to him, saying, “Have a few on me.”  His one-word response was a simple “Thanks.”  And that’s all that was necessary in a simple exchange between a young warrior who’d sacrificed a forearm on behalf of his nation and an old warrior who was grateful that he had not.

That’s the way it should be.  And if it involves only a simple “Thanks for your service,” so be it.

That’s an expression that has now become as embedded in our culture as “Have a nice day,” whether or not we like it.  According to the New York Times, that unbiased authority on all things important in the heartland, there are young veterans who don’t.  Some NYT reporter apparently found two younger veterans who were so offended by the harmless phrase widely adopted by the American public to convey in a brief and passing way that they are grateful to the sheepdogs who protect the flock that they were willing to go on record and make themselves look like the churlish ingrates they are.

You can’t imagine how badly I wish it were possible for young warriors who share these shortsighted sentiments to be able to travel back to the time, when the veterans of my war returned to a less than grateful nation.  There was no spontaneous applause at airport gates or messages from the aircraft captain noting that we had returning troops on board, much less upgrades to first class.  No one ever quietly paid my restaurant tab to show his gratitude that I had gone into harm’s way on his behalf.  There were no veteran discounts extended by any businesses that I frequented upon my return from Vietnam.  There was mostly just wary acceptance of my presence, as if folks somehow weren’t quite sure whether they had a Fourth of July rocket or a live hand grenade in the room.

The mood of the nation was very different then.  I wish the veterans of today could get but a small taste of it so as to make them appreciate the value of having their nation squarely supporting them and their mission rather than being angrily confrontational, disparaging their service as dishonorable at the least and criminal at the worst.  I’ve heard many tales of returning Vietnam vets being spat upon, but I’ve never met a single one to whom it actually happened, so I tend to disregard such tales as apocryphal.  But the reality of our reception back into society was grim enough – an experience never shared by other American troops returning from a foreign war, before or since.

I wear my 101st Airborne and 82nd Airborne ball caps from time to time, so I get these “Thank you for your service” sentiments occasionally.  My response is always a quiet and simple “Thank you.”  No big deal, and I don’t lose sleep over whether or not the sentiment is genuine or self-gratifying, as apparently the two veterans a NYT reporter could dig up to support what I suspect was a planned narrative do.  If some young fools want to get their skivvies in a twist because they distrust the motives of grateful citizens, more power to them.  That silly spite shows they learned little from their military experiences.

My only opportunity to show my personal gratitude to a current veteran came in an encounter in the waiting line at a Walgreens liquor department in our little New Mexico ski town.  I glanced over my shoulder and saw this very buff, ski-burned young man and his pretty companion behind me.  He was carrying a twelve-pack in his good arm and cradling a half-gallon of Wild Turkey under his prosthetic arm.  I said, “Here, let me hold that for you.”  And then, gesturing to his now empty prosthesis, I said, “Get that in the Sand Box?”  He grinned, looking at my Airborne cap, sizing up my age, and said nothing more than “Yeah.”  When I got to the register, I included his Turkey on my bill and handed it back to him, saying, “Have a few on me.”  His one-word response was a simple “Thanks.”  And that’s all that was necessary in a simple exchange between a young warrior who’d sacrificed a forearm on behalf of his nation and an old warrior who was grateful that he had not.

That’s the way it should be.  And if it involves only a simple “Thanks for your service,” so be it.