When people thank me for my military service, I am put in an awkward and uncomfortable position which I do not like at all. Through conversations with other veterans, I have found that almost all of them dislike being thanked for their service as well.
I know that most people mean well, and think that they are lifting our spirits by thanking us for our service. I know that previous generations of veterans did not receive warm welcomes when they returned home. I don’t wish to sound ungrateful. I would certainly rather feel awkward than ashamed.
It’s just that the guys I have spoken to all say the same thing – we didn’t join the military so that we would be thanked for it ten years later. Even when it’s obviously sincere, it leaves us unsure of what to say.
Speaking only for myself, many times it comes across as hollow. It’s as if they don’t know what to say about us being in the military, so they pay lip service to thanking us and move on to talking about the weather.
As to exactly why it makes me feel awkward – it is a reminder of a time that I don’t really like to visit or dwell on unless I’m with very close friends (who were in the military, generally). In real life, I avoid attracting attention to the fact that I was in the military – no veteran plates or military stickers on my cars, almost no military shirts other than my French Paratrooper shirt and a 5th Marines shirt which I wear during workouts, and if people ask me about being in the military, I try to leave it at “I was in the Navy.” But as I said above, I’m not alone in this awkward feeling.
The other day, I heard a few men talking to a guy who had been severely injured during the first part of the war in Iraq. They discussed his injury (largely without his involvement) and then capped it off with a “thanks for your service.” To the men, it probably seemed respectful. To me, it seemed like the Soldier was an animal in the zoo, a creature to be examined and praised and then ignored once a socially acceptable amount of time had been dedicated to the topic. I could see from his body language and lack of a response that he was very uncomfortable. I later spoke one-on-one with him, and he confirmed that it felt “weird” to be thanked.
On the other hand, I was in a bar with one of my Marines – a man I had not seen in seven years – last night, and somehow a bar patron found out that we were in the military (the details are slightly hazy to me). He thanked us for our service and insisted upon buying us drinks, which in my case was Macallan. Perhaps it was hypocritical of me, but I can’t turn down a good single malt, so I accepted.
In most cases, though, I simply want to be left alone. In the abstract I can appreciate the thought when it is genuine, but please don’t thank me for my service.