Please…Don’t Thank Me

The poppy flower is the symbol of those military who have fallen in war.

Each year, weeks before Veterans Day, my email box is bombarded with emails. Cool, I have friends that want to reach out. If that was only true, but sadly that is not the reason why my email box is full. The continuous influx of email, some days as many as twenty, is to tell me all about the “free” deals I can get as a veteran on this most hallowed of days. They (these national and international companies) all want to “Thank me” for my service to my country.

2004 On the roof of Al Faw Palace in Baghdad, Iraq. This was the last of my three total combat zones.

I also get other veteran related emails, the impersonal ones from the Veterans Administration (VA) telling me also of all the “freebees” I can get from all those national/international companies and where to reach out if I am needing help “…in what can be a difficult time for some veteran’s”. Mixed in, are those emails from other veteran organisations I have been associated, providing with the same information only their emails state “we are here for you” on Veterans Day. What does that mean? Would a live person answer the phone and just talk? Would they just listen to why this day should be honored and not just another commercial advertisement for some national/international company suggesting that they “support the veteran”. The “Thank you for your service” seems shallow, empty, isolating. It also seems to me like they are all trying very hard to “buy my vote”, change my views with all the free stuff, and don’t even get me started on the environmental toll of all this stuff that is given to use for “free”.

I have some issues with these shallow impersonal emails.

First, when did my service to my country, warrant “free” commercial favors? I volunteered to enter the military. In 1988 when I received my commission as a second lieutenant, it wasn’t even a thought to ask “what sort of free stuff will I get?”. I did get military gear issued to me “for free”, most of it I had to return to the military at some point. As a young commissioned officer (mind you with no money in my pocket), I was just happy as a clam to have a pay check, be able to pay my bills, and of course see the country. I never would have even guessed that the military would provide a “free” ride to locations all over the world. Some of them the most dangerous on the planet at any given time.

Cool, a “free” trip to a war zone, who wouldn’t want that?

I don’t ever recall any of my military buddies ever saying seriously that they joined the military to get “free” stuff. I do remember as I was helping put up tents in a blowing sand storm, joking around to keep our moral up, “Isn’t this cool? The military is giving us a wonderful vacation in a sandy beach like environment with free camping gear, who would have ever guessed that when we sign our names to that paper!” (laughing by everyone).

A single rose is a symbol of the love. Be that love of country, love of self, love for another individual. Love a veteran today is a great way to honor them.

Second issue I have with all these emails from the veteran groups, is they all say “we are here to help you on now(Veterans Day)”. If they need to tell us all that for weeks ahead of the special day, are they really doing all they can in their jobs of providing support to each and every single one of us? A few years ago I received a phone call on my birthday from one of these groups and I almost lost it emotionally when they told me they were just checking in on me to see how I was doing. How nice, how personal, but I never received another phone call from that organisation ever again! Maybe a once and done, check the block was all that they needed, but I would love to hear a voice on the other end of the phone call today asking me about my day. Wouldn’t that be nice? Instead of every veteran getting “free stuff”, that today each one of us reaches out to someone who is serving our country or someone who has served our country and just asked how their day was going? Asked it like they really cared?

Free stuff will never bring back the people who have served our country and paid the price with their lives. It will never reduce the pain for those that remain to pick up the pieces and it really doesn’t honor any of us!

What I would like to see, as a veteran of three combat zones, is the end to this senseless cycle of war! I would love to see on this day a return to honoring the veterans who have served, not with free stuff, but with celebrating the day as it was intended with kindness and genuine gratitude for helping to keep a democracy free for all to enjoy.

For my friends who have all ready reached out today, I thank you all for remembering me. For those of you who want to really honour a veteran on this day and don’t know how to reach out personally I have listed below several ways you can that would be honorable to any veteran and the best way to say “Thanks for your service”.

This summer wearing a 100% wool sweater my mother made for me to honor my service while serving in my first combat zone in 1991 Desert Storm. The motifs and sweater design was my mother’s original pattern. They depict the dead broken phones I was constantly dealing with while deployed and a camel representing the location (Middle East) and on the sleeves are my branch in the Army, Signal Corps Flags. The sweater is now part of the permanent collection at the Minnesota Historical Society. A way to honor all veteran’s is to donate to preserve the history of our individual stories.

Please…don’t thank me…I volunteered. I am proud to say I am a woman, a mother of two military sons, an Army veteran, a disabled veteran who volunteered to help maintain our freedoms granted to us in our Constitution!

Ways to honor a veteran on Veteran’s Day

  • Donate to a local veteran’s organisation in a veteran’s name. Let them know you care and that you think their service was important.
  • Ask a veteran to your family dinner. Get to know their story. What they did in the military and what they accomplished after they completed their military service. Their stories are as unique, individual, and as diverse as the country in which we serve.
  • Ask a local food shelf if they have veteran or veterans in need. On this day make sure you reach out to those who are suffering from hunger and homelessness.
  • Reach out to your political leaders and make sure they support the actions in legislation that support (REALLY support!) veterans personally and don’t just fund more research.
  • Volunteer at your local Veterans Hospital/clinic or other veteran organisation in your communities that support those who serve.

On this day, please remember others in the world who are fighting and making sacrifices for continued freedom inside the Ukraine.

© The Cedar Journal, 2022, all rights reserved to the owner of this original prose, Paula Gray, retired, US Army veteran.