Thank you for saying thank you

911neverforgetIt’s pretty common for service men and women to be thanked for their service by passing strangers. Not so long ago, it wasn’t common.

I recall the first time it happened to me. I was grunting through my morning workout at the local Gold’s Gym. A young man – a big, muscle man – spotted my tee shirt with its Naval Academy crest and the word N A V Y in bold block letters.

“Prior service?” he asked. (It was clear from my graying temples that I was not currently on active duty.)

“Yes,” I responded.

When he thanked me, I was a bit stunned. In 35 years since my honorable discharge, no civilian had ever thanked me for my service. We chatted a bit and went back to our workouts.

I surprised myself when I returned home, broke down and cried. It had been nearly 40 years since I was spat upon and called a baby-killer in a waiting area at JFK International Airport. In those days, it was common to look down on active duty military and veterans. I suppose my tears were a release of decades of repressed emotions.

Today, on 9/11, social media is plastered with pictures of American flags emblazoned with the mantra “Never Forget”. It’s a worthy sentiment.

It’s also important never to forget those who put on a uniform, learned to fight and went to war on our behalf following that most difficult of days. It’s not enough to say thank you without backing up your gratitude with something meaningful.

Unlike warriors in Vietnam, Korea and WWII, many Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers found themselves in a combat zone for their entire deployment (and many were sent back multiple times). They suffer from higher instances of PTSD, TBI and suicide than any generation of fighters in our history.veteran

What can you do?

Well, you can volunteer for organizations like Operation Homefront or the Veterans’ Outreach Center. No time to volunteer? Well, you can always write a check. They would be grateful to receive it.

Moreover, you can bring your concern to the ballot box. How will your candidate vote when it comes to budgeting for the VA and other federal programs? It’s time you found out.

Like all veterans, I am glad to be recognized for my service. I would be much more gratified if those who fought our enemies got the benefits they deserved.

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