When Thank You Doesn't Seem Enough
How to honor those who served #VeteransDay
Have you ever witnessed a laying of wreaths ceremony at Arlington National Cemetary? It occurs at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where watchful Tomb Guards can be found every second of every day no matter the weather. Families of those Veterans who never made it home gather to lay a wreath in remembrance of their loved one.
The scene is quiet — you can only hear the synchronized footsteps of the Guards. It’s a somber moment that puts things in perspective. On Veteran’s Day, many people share posts on giving their thanks to those who have served our country and put their lives on the line for our freedom. But what about the other 364 days of the year? Have we forgotten about our Veterans?
We should show gratitude and thanks to those who serve every day, but how can we do that? Most military members and Veterans I know are proud to have served their country and would do it again, and they didn’t do it for the glory or praise from others. They did it because of a deep desire to protect us and our freedom and they do so ever so selflessly. They knowingly and willingly step into the face of harm so that we may never see such travesty.
Most companies and brands join in on giving back to those who served on Veteran’s Day every year. Some brands even offer services and discounts to military members year-round. These acts of kindness help Veterans feel appreciated and know that their sacrifice is remembered — but is that the only way to help Veterans?
I recently volunteered at a local VA home in Pittsburgh. Many of those living in the home served during WWII. While brands and stores who give things away to Veterans is nice for those younger generations and their families, some of our most senior Veterans do not get to experience that. In talking to the WWII vets, I realized a few ways that we could help honor them.
1. Write more. I spent time with a couple who had been married for 72 years. Wives of military Vets get to live in the home with them. This is so important because spouses and families sacrifice, too. They selflessly let go of their loved ones and share them with the rest of us to keep us safe. This particular couple wrote letters the entire time he was in the Navy. When they moved into the home, they could only take so many of the letters with them, but they kept what they could. If you’re a writer here on Medium, you have a skill that could be used to warm the heart of a Veteran. Many organizations send care packages to those currently deployed and Veterans, but what they need the most are personal notes to accompany the items — it’s the military member’s favorite treasure.
As writers, we know the importance of words. They matter. We can use them to teach, promote, and sell. But we can also use them to comfort, encourage, and thank.
2. Hear their stories. Thanking service members is wonderful. Add an extra touch by asking what branch they served, when they served, if they have any stories. Not all Veterans find it easy to talk about this, but for those who do, they love to share. The Veterans I met who were in their 90s could easily recall special stories and moments. One man told me before they even got to Germany during WWII, their plane started to slow down mid-air and they had to land and repair it before they even got there. They also have so much pride for their branch. My favorite thing to witness is when they play each branch’s song and ask those who served to stand and be recognized. You can see in their eyes how much the words resonate with them. Whether it’s Semper Fi or aim high they call home, they remember and proudly sing along. Let them tell you about it.
3. Teach the younger generations. “Lest we forget.” I was in high school on September 11, 2001. But many have been born since that will never know what life was like pre-9/11. The same can be said for how my grandfather was a Marine during WWII and even though I couldn’t imagine that time, he would teach me. It’s our job to make sure we can account for all of our history and the individuals who gave so much to keep us safe. Their bravery and courage no matter the branch or conflict is important.
4. Help for those most impacted. Many of the Veterans I know are happy to talk about their time and adapted to civilian life when they returned home. It’s an adjustment period for everyone, but some have a more difficult time. When the “thank yous” and kind gestures are not enough, some of our Veterans need a professional who can help them and talk to them to aid the healing process.
Each Veteran and military member is different. Their experience is different. They develop bonds and witness things many of us civilians will never understand or experience first-hand. But there is one thing that remains true: each is a hero. They deserve our gratitude every day. They fight for our freedom regardless of if we are a good person or not, regardless of if we support them or not.
To every person who has served and every family that was part of a deployment, thank you. We remember your sacrifice, we honor you, we are forever grateful.