I appreciate it more than you think. “Thank you for your service.” Every time someone gives their appreciation, the memories come flooding back. The years of service went by so fast, it seems, and I miss it every day.
More importantly, with Veteran’s Day approaching, why do you thank a veteran? Is it just a reflex? I would argue that most Americans’ personal actions do a disservice to the sacrifices that our veterans endured – combat, missed births of their children, numerous holidays, death of parents, college, and destroyed relationships.
Our military is an all-volunteer force, so there’s no need to put us on a pedestal. We are not victims, so your sentiments are not an obligation, nor did we serve to reap them. We are not all valiant heroes, but we are also not traumatic, downtrodden, unstable veterans. For most of the former and active duty service members who walk the halls of Shippensburg University, we’re finally living a life of normalcy. Service and war interrupted our journey, so for many, it’s an opportunity to get back on track. Constant physical training and campaigns have been replaced by essays and finals week.
What makes this country so beautiful is the fact that the millions of volunteers who have served over these few centuries, all served so that you didn’t have to. Less than 1 percent of Americans serve, today. Like most veterans, I felt and still respond to an overwhelming sense of service to our country. However, it might surprise you that our veterans’ service is no better than your own as citizens. The biggest contribution that veterans have made is that, in their volunteering, it allowed you the opportunity to continue to enjoy the rights and freedoms of our republic, without having to endure the same hardships.
We honor our veterans, this week, for relieving us from such a burden, but observing our freedoms as Americans would go much further in recognizing their sacrifices. “Thank you for your service” rings hollow when so many Americans carelessly take our freedoms for granted. This past Tuesday, a vast majority of Americans didn’t vote, even while another 22 veterans committed suicide that same day. It may sound cliché, but I would remind the ones that didn’t exercise their right to vote that too many Americans served and still serve to preserve our freedoms. Similar freedoms and rights are a civic responsibility that shouldn’t be so nonchalantly ignored, especially when it involves electing our leaders.
I can testify that most of the 20 million veterans, today, would beam with pride if Americans just voted and looked after the welfare of this republic, more than themselves. “Thank you for your service” only seems fleeting and meaningless, otherwise. President John F. Kennedy declared, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that our highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
Our personal rights and freedoms were largely won on battlefields, but go unobserved, year after year. So, this Veteran’s Day, make a commitment that, for the rest of your lives, you’ll take ownership of as many freedoms as possible. Set the example for others and teach it to younger Americans and your fellow citizens. Then, “thank you for your service” will not only carry a whole different meaning, but we’ll be a much stronger country and continue to be the most exceptional nation on earth.