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Why does it feel weird/bad to hear "Thank you for your service?"

Nov 11, 2022

First of all, to all of you who tell us today “Thank you for your service.”  - it was my privilege. 


I just got a text - before my alarm went off from an Army buddy saying “Thank you for your service.” 


I wonder how many of my fellow veterans also feel the same way, that it feels a little funny or weird or even bad to hear those words, “Thank you for your service.”


And so I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts on what I believe it might be, and also what it’s not.


First of all, I don’t believe it has to do with having a problem accepting appreciation. When someone says “Thank you” for opening a door for them at a restaurant I don’t get a weird feeling. It’s doubtful any of my other fellow veterans do either. 


But I don’t think that’s really it. 


Respect and Honor. There’s this sense of respect and honor for those who truly suffered and sacrificed. Physically. Emotionally. And for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. For the families who prayed for us. Who celebrated our return. And who also prayed we wouldn’t go back. And who hated us for going anyway. 


“Guilt” doesn’t really describe it. It doesn’t feel like guilt that I’m alive. That seems disingenuous. 


I’ll work on receiving that gratitude a bit more graciously, and I will smile and continue to say “It was my privilege.” 


I’m sure all my veteran friends would agree we’d all do it again in a second. 


Even in this moment, part of me wants to gear up and go protect the people of Ukraine from the Russians. At first I wrote “go kill some Russians” which does describe my initial raw reaction, but there was this pause. I’m learning today not to follow or trust my initial reactions. 


Although let me say this, if you hurt someone I care about, I might kill you. Better judgment and consideration of consequences would probably kick in before that actually happened. But it’s a distinct possibility I could go full Charles Bronson on your ass. 


That sense right there is another possibility why we veterans have this unusual reaction to the words “Thank you for your service.” Maybe we’re just a little pissed off - you don’t really know why we decided to serve. To put our lives on the line. I grew up when bullying was just the way it was. We got bullied. And we did some of it ourselves. Or at least I did. 


There was this time in the 7th grade there was this weak goofy kid - probably weighed about 100 lbs. And then there was this other big bruiser of a kid who used to just torture him. There was this one time in the locker room the big kid head butted the weak kid. (I think I might even remember the big kids name, so if you know who you are…) And the weak kid took it like a champ. 


If I feel guilty at all related to this subject of people expressing their gratitude for military service, maybe it’s connected to my not finding a way to stand up for that weak kid. Or maybe it’s for not finding a way to stand up for myself. I just stood there and watched - too afraid to do anything about it. 


It pisses me off a little when I hear people:

Whine about paying their taxes, never expressing gratitude for the opportunity. 

Say negative things about poor people about how they’re not taking personal responsibility. 

Insist they’re right about how gay marriage hurts anyone. Or the institution of marriage. 

Insist they’re right about the 99 other things on the list of things they have to be right about so we can feel OK about their boring unfulfilled lives.


And it’s sad that I’ve even been the one who’s said some of those things on occasion. Making it not “they” but “we.”


But mostly - there’s this sense of protection. Quit whining. What are you doing about it?


There are these central ideas of respect and honor and sacrifice  that keep coming to mind. Here I am sitting in this Marriott Courtyard at 6:14 in the morning having just gotten an amazing night’s sleep. The only sacrifice I’ve made lately is that I’ve been up since 5:30 and I haven’t had my coffee yet because I felt like I had to write this first. Somewhere at this same time is someone who’s suffering from depression or other mental illness. Someone who’s thinking about taking their life. 


One thing I know first hand about mental illness is that if you haven’t experienced it, you have no idea what it’s like. Your biggest need to connect, and every fiber of your being is telling you to avoid human contact at all cost. 


If you know someone who’s hurting, reach out to them. 


If you know someone who’s being hurt - do something about it. Today. 


And if it’s you who’s being hurt or is hurting, it’s not your fault. You deserve so much more. 


I’m just so incredibly grateful today through my work and through my play today I get to create these opportunities for people to connect.


Connection is truly what is needed most. And I’ll never forget the guys I served with -particularly overseas ½ way around the world in Korea.