Monday, May 26, 2014

Thank You For Your Service!


Veterans hear that a lot nowadays.

We’ll hear it everywhere today – even though Memorial Day isn’t really about us, those veterans still among the living.

Thank you for your service.

As a veteran, and as somebody who has a moderately large social media following and internet footprint, I get asked how I feel about that phrase on a fairly regular basis.

Thank you for your service.

As a veteran who typically wears one of my various ratty old Navy sweatshirts around, I get thanked for my service daily. Alaskan businesses are big on giving out military discounts, both to active duty military personnel and very often to retirees as well (which is damned unusual and which I sincerely appreciate), and so I often flash my retired military ID at the register or maybe the waitress spots it when I pull out my wallet to pay for a meal, and in addition to the discount I get thanked for my service.

Thank you for your service.

Some vets enjoy being thanked for their service.

Many are ambivalent.

Some are irritated or embarrassed or angry at being reminded of things they'd rather forget. And some just plain don't give a damn.

Many are sick of hearing it.

And that’s okay. Each of us deals with our service in our own way.

Thank you for your service.

It often feels hollow, a stock phrase that get tossed about nowadays, all run together like a sound clip on fast-forward: tankewfoyerserviceandhaveaniceday!

Thank you for your service. 

Me? I don't mind.

I take it in the spirit offered, just like the discount.

If it seems sincere, I nod and thank them sincerely in return for their thoughts - and why not?

You know, many folks truly do appreciate the sacrifices and dedication. Many truly do respect those who stand the watch out there in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, day in and day out year after year. They truly do admire their fellow citizens and it makes them proud to know they live in a nation that whatever its flaws and whatever its problems and whatever its divides still produces in boundless quantity men and women of such resolute character that they are willing to voluntarily place their own precious selves between home and war's desolation. 

Some folks thank us because they don't know what else to do, or because they wish they could do more. Because they’re embarrassed that they themselves didn’t serve. Or because they’re embarrassed that our lives are wasted out there in wars and conflicts they vehemently disagree with.

Some of those people? The one who offer up thanks? They're vets too and you can see it in their eyes, the respect.  They say thank you for your service because they know. They know. Because they’ve been out there.  And because they just enjoy talking to another vet and that thanks is a way to open conversation with a stranger, with a brother or sister you just haven’t met yet, in the checkout line.

And so, when they offer up sincere thanks, I sincerely appreciate it in return and why the hell not? 

Just like the discount, I don’t expect it, and I surely don’t demand it as my due, but, you know, I’ll take it in humble gratitude if offered.

A young man recently thanked me for my service. He was 18, maybe 19, working his way through the Alaskan summer, earning money for college as a crewman on a glacier viewing ship I happened to be a passenger on.  He thanked me and he meant it, eyes wide with respect and admiration. He said he was thinking about joining the reserves. I spoke to him for a while as the ship returned to dock, offering up a bit of crusty old Warrant Officer advice - because that's part of it too, paying it back, giving respect back in exchange for respect given, encouraging the next generation.  Agree with how the military and we veterans have been used over the last few decades, or not, you have to stand in admiration and respect for a generation of young people who are still willing to don the uniform and go forth under the Stars and Stripes. They have every reason not to, and yet they still go and that should tell you everything you need to know about them. America will be in good hands when these kids take over, you have only to look around to see it.

Thank you for your service.

Oh sure, sometimes it's tendered reflexively out of America's collective guilt. Guilt at how we treated the previous generation of warriors, the ones that came home from Korea and Vietnam. 

That’s okay, the guilt.

Sincere or not, being reflexively thanked for your service is a damned sight better than being spit on or called a baby killer.

You can tell, when it’s out of guilt. I nod and smile and move on, perfectly willing to accept a belated thanks for my comrades in arms, in the names of the ones that came before me, the ones that are no longer with us and to whom we honor on this Memorial Day.

I accept those guilty thanks, not for me but for them, because that’s what we were trained to do in the military, look out for each other, leave no one behind.

Thank you for your service.

And yes, sometimes it’s just a stock phrase, thankewferurservice.

And so what?

I take it in the spirit offered with a polite stock “thanksapprecitit” in return.  Just like the discount, sincere or not, offered only to get me into the store, whatever, I’ll take it and why the hell not? These people don’t owe me anything. I didn’t serve so America would owe me or give me a military discount.  As a veteran, especially one who served of your own free will, you start thinking that the country should kowtow to you over your service, you’re headed down a dangerous road of resentment. Look around, there is a certain fraction of disgruntled vets who do feel that way and unhappy miserable bastards they are, one and all. If the military taught you anything, it should have taught you that your personal happiness doesn’t depend on anybody else.  You have the respect of your comrades in arms, the ones who know, what else do you need?

Thank you for your service.

Today is about thanking those who fell in the service of their country.

Many of those thanks are heartfelt and sincere. Some of that gratitude is out of guilt, perhaps, or out of duty, or self-serving political agendas. Some is nothing more than simple gratitude for a day off to spend with family and friends for whatever cause.

And that’s okay.

Thanks are not required, in America we revere the warrior no more than any other citizen and that is exactly as it should be.

But if you find the time today, take a moment and raise a glass to those who have fallen in your name. Do it so that they are not forgotten, if only briefly.

And then go on, live your lives, be free, because that’s the best way to honor them.


To all of you who have served, the living and the dead, as always, thank you.

- Chief Warrant Officer Jim Wright USN(ret)


  1. Marched in a local parade this morning, with my Revolutionary War reenactor unit. We aren't soldiers (technically, some of us were, but you know what I mean). When we pass someone in uniform, or that we could identify as having served, we performed "Present Arms" to honor them. Although we march today to honor and remember the fallen, the living merit our thanks as well, and we thank them in part to thank those that are not here to see it. Part of why we do this hobby is to remember the men and women that helped make this country and defend it through the years. So, thank you, all of you.

  2. My daughter knew that I had served in the Air Force before her time, and it never really struck her one way or the other, which is normal. But many years later, when she was 14, we were at the Shamu show at Sea World down in San Dog during the Memorial Day weekend. They began the show with a tribute to those who had fallen, and then had all the vets in the crowd stand up to thunderous applause. I have to admit, it felt nice to have people take a moment to applaud, but the look on my kid's face was priceless. It's not often your TEENAGE daughter looks up at you with what appeared to be unabashed pride. It made me a bit emotional, and is one of my favorite memories.

    Sorry for babbling. Thank you to those of us who made the ultimate sacrifice, and never got the chance to have those kind of moments. You are in my thoughts today.

    1. You've reminded me that at my daughter's high school the end of the school year concert band concert was always around Memorial Day. They play a medley of the service songs, and ask that if you are veteran, to stand when you hear your service. I guess it shouldn't surprise me but it did - how few of us there were in the auditorium who stood up. But people noticed, applauded each service, and a large number of people said something on the way out of the auditorium later. It was a pretty nice feeling I have to admit. And people were genuinely appreciative. A fair number also said - "I didn't realize you had been in the Army".

  3. A veteran friend says that, whether she finds it sincere or not, she simply replies, "It was my honor."

  4. I don't get the "Happy" Memorial Day salutation either. There is nothing happy about this day of remembrance.

  5. Thank you, Jim.
    Yeah, I cried.

  6. Better put than I could.

    I find the most awkward interactions to be those with kids that don't have any idea why they're thanking me other than that they have been instructed by their elders that it's the right thing to say to someone in uniform. They're kind of lost, which leaves me a little lost.

    That said, I'm perfectly fine with American kids, and maybe kids everywhere some day not actually *understanding* at that core level what they're thanking all of us for. If they don't get it, then we're doing it right.

  7. When I was in college in Maine I went to the Bar Harbor Memorial Day parade which was led off by local veterans. At the head were several WWI vets, some in their uniforms. They looked like proud, gaunt, old eagles, and it was clear 70 years hadn't erased their war. Yeah, I cried.

  8. Jesse, if the elders instructed them to learn that little bit of civility, that's not a bad thing. I didn't serve, but every time I make that statement, or something similar, for me at least, it's genuine. And my wife (the Veteran) and I have raised our kids to be polite, and to thank people for their service. By now, they're all old enough to have at least a clue about why we do it.

    Thanks, Jim. Thanks, all. For your service. Some of us really do appreciate it.

  9. Thanks, Jim. For your service, and for, well, all of it.

  10. Thank you, Jim, for your service. And thank you to Staff Sergeant Jacob McMillan, KIA Iraq, December 20, 2006, my Son-In-Law. Jake, you are gone, but still loved deeply and never forgotten.

  11. When we returned from Nam in 65 and had the opportunity to mingle with the civvies, they would treat us like dog crap. I've seen the signs in parks around San Diego that stated "Dog & Sailors stay off the grass." So, if I couldn't walk on it, then I'd just roll it and smoke it. Hey, but I'm getting the last laugh, I retired from a civilian government agency at the age of 52-1/2 and draw a DAMN GOOD!!! retirement check. So that's my major "FUCK YOU" to the protesters I ran into in 1965.

  12. Oh Jim, I am in awe of any who serve. I wonder how I might have acted (had I made it to shore) on the pt boats on the beach at Normandy. Would I puke? Loose my bowels? Be paralyzed with fear in the chaos? Would I have the Moxie to put one foot in front of the other? Or, say, in Viet Nam, would I be brave enough to enter a lightless tunnel, part of a honeycomb of booby-traps and living quarters? I really can't say. Onboard a Huey, would I cower, or hang out the door with my gun? No idea, man. I am in TOTAL AWE of our young fellers and lifers.

  13. Beautiful sentiments and thoughts.

    I have always been impressed with, and humbled by, those who have served, including you, Chief Warrant Officer Jim Wright USN(ret,).

    I don't know who first said or wrote this, but it's so true: “A Veteran – whether active duty, retired, National Guard, or Army Reserve – is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America, for an amount of ‘up to and including my life.’"

    Today, we remember those who gave their all and their loved ones who mourn that terrible loss.


  14. When I left the Marine Corps, some 47 years ago, all I wanted to do was put that time and the painful memories behind me. Back then, I didn't talk to anyone, and no one really wanted to ask me about my service. As time went by, I had become so used to avoiding the subject that I would find myself just saying, "no, I wasn't in the service", it was just easier that way.

    About 4 years ago, out of the blue, I got a phone call from my old squad leader. He and I had both been pulled out of the field at the same time. Back then the Marine Corp was removing people from Vietnam after they got 3 Purple Hearts, and between us we had six. It was the last time I saw him or any of my buddies until that day, 4 years ago, when he called to say, "thank you for your service."

    That meant the world to me, he had been one of my heros. Since then, I've always made it a point to express my gratitude to other veterans because I know what it meant to me.

    "Thank you for your service."

  15. I never served, but my grandfather, brother-in-law and ex-husband all did, as did my step-dad, who was career Navy. I'll never forget my first experience being on a military base after my mom re-married. I was questioning my step-dad about all that saluting; at the ripe old age of 9, it was a bit confusing. I asked him who I needed to salute. "Everyone in a uniform," he said. "You're a civilian, so anyone in a uniform outranks you." I realized years later that he probably meant it as a joke, but I spent the next 6 weeks saluting everyone, until it was time to return to my dad's, who had custody of me and my sister. Now that I'm in the latter half of living, I hope a few of those sailors from NAS Lemoore in 1969 got a chuckle out of the skinny little blond girl in glasses saluting them. But joke or not, I still remember that everyone who wears or ever wore the uniform outranks me and those that gave their lives outrank me even more.

    With a somber heart and humble gratitude, I salute you all.

  16. Well Jim, a heartfelt thanks for your service and that of all veterans living and dead.

  17. Both my family and my husband's family have had someone under arms in almost every war this country has fought. I was the first female in my family to serve. My sons have both served. Thank you, Jim, for your service.

  18. Great sentiment. I wish I hadn't read it on Tuesday night or I would have shared the hell out of it.

  19. Greg - ETC(SW) USN - RetiredMay 27, 2014 at 8:47 PM

    The following came to mind when you mentioned "stand the watch" in the essay. I suspect that you may have thought the same thing when you chose those words in that context.


  20. thank you. not only for your service, but for everything you do!

  21. USCG CPO (retired)May 28, 2014 at 7:27 PM

    Thank you Jim, for your continued service through this blog. To those of you who served, thank you.

    To the kids serving now - I couldn't be prouder of a generation.

    Thank You.

  22. I fall into an additional category of folks thanking vets for their service: I'm the parent of two young men currently serving and recently safely back from their first deployments. (One Navy Corpsman assigned to a Marine unit and one Army Infantryman). As a die-hard progressive I am so appreciative of your blog and so thankful and amazed for the example you set as a clear thinking, dedicated, true patriot.

  23. Out of necessity I was looking at replacement cars later on Monday, and one salesperson paused from helping another customer to show me how to navigate their inventory. As she left she said, "If I can help you later today, you'll be helped by a veteran." I told her, "And you'll be helping a veteran."

    We shared that look Jim talked about and smiled, remembering our respective time in uniform.

    Thank you for your service, Jim and all my brothers-and-sister in arms. *salute*

    Scott Burnell
    1st Armored Division

  24. We dont 'owe' soldiers anything for their service, other than what we were promised for our service, which we all long ago realized was a lie, lol. Its nice to hear, but it mostly is meaningless, like the question 'How are you today?'. I ask people that ask me that stupid question (Im calling my gastroenterologist, how do YOU think I am doing?), 'Do you really want to know, or are you asking to be polite?'. I feel the same about 'thanks' for military service, the merit of the question is a result of the context of the questioner. You can tell a vet right off the bat, they stand a little straighter and will look you right in the eye to see if you are a faker or liar. I dont resent it, because Ive read tales of thousands of SEALs, Rangers and SF, even Edward Snowden is a 'James Bond' spy rather than a criminal ex-employee of Booz-Allen Hamilton. The Supreme Court has ruled that it is legal to lie about such things, but our world is so small that it is easy to catch someone out on a lie. The simplest question is to ask them about jump school, because everyone goes to Benning for that and has for decades. Everyone remembers the mess hall there and if you dont, you werent there. Few mess halls have pull up bars in front of them, much less hungry men doing pull ups to gain admission. If you wanna be airborne, you gotta be thin, no shit, lol.

    But most people dont care or bring sufficient gravitas with their thanks to make me care, either way its a wash. But meeting a fellow broother from another time and place, or making a little old lady understand something to the point when she did say 'Thaks' it wasnt for the groceries I carried. While I didnt do it for thanks, I did do it for each an every American living or dead that came before me or who will come after and I am thankful to have had the chance.

    William C Diaz
    A Co, 2/505 PIR, H-minus

    Have a great day!

  25. My husband is a Vietnam Veteran who never talked about his service until our five daughters got old enough to start doing things to let him know how proud they are of him. One did a high school research project on Agent Orange, another did a class presentation on Bob Hope that ended with a brief shaky Super 8 movie clip of her Dad at the Bob Hope Christmas show at Long Binh in 1969, just days before his return to the world. Their persistent pride finally persuaded him to start wearing a Vietnam Veteran cap sometimes, so he now gets the “Thank for your service,” and never really knows how to reply. When our youngest was 13, the three of us went to Washington, DC for Memorial Day to attend a ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. We also visited the Holocaust Museum where we lunched in the museum restaurant. While we were eating, a rather frail, elderly man wearing a badge identifying him as a museum docent and carrying a tray with the detritus of his own lunch approached us, apologized for interrupting our meal, asked my husband when he had been in Vietnam, and then thanked him for his service. We asked him how he became a docent and as we chatted, he told us that he was Jewish and that his family had left Germany for the US when Hitler came to power and that as soon as he turned 18 he had enlisted and served in the US Army, even though he was not yet a citizen. My husband immediately stood up, shook the man’s hand and said “Thank you for your service.” My daughter and I just sat there, in awe of them both, with tears rolling down our faces.

  26. Jim, thank you for your service! Not your past service (certainly thank you for that too), but for the service you are doing here with Stonekettle! Teaching people how to remain civil in their comments and to think for themselves whether they agree with you or not. I enjoy the comments section almost as much as your actual post. Nice to know there are people like this still out there!
    I just found this yesterday and am hooked, and will be going through the archives on a daily basis!
    Commenting as anonymous, but really I'm just Jeff Coley. :)

  27. The day after Memorial Day, a few of us in the unit decided to go to lunch together. On the way in, one older gentlemen with a group of bikers thanked each of us for our service. Before he left, he stopped by one last time to thank us and let us know he joined in '58.

    We thanked him for "paving the way."


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