Thank You for Your Service

A group of us were discussing a small town in Arizona and I happened to mention that I had been stationed near there when I was in the Army. Somebody I had just met said "Thank you for your service." I was a bit flabbergasted, but since it was the first and only time anyone had said that to me in the half century since I got out of the Army, I was OK with it, though I have to admit that it did remind me of the fact that my service was so much less heroic than that of all the men and women of the military going in serious harm's way, then and since, and of my childhood friend who died in Vietnam, and the other guys I went through basic with, almost all of them destined for Vietnam.

Nobody was thanking guys in uniform for their service back in 1967, but I never got any grief about it either. Apparently some who serve now are finding our current fixation with it a nuisance. From a letter to Dear Prudence:

I am a career senior military officer stationed in a U.S. city with a small but bustling base. When I’m in civilian clothes, I read as just another 40-something dad, but in uniform I’m the BIG DAMN HERO. I get thanked for my service to the point of distraction. I’ve had parents force their kids to come up to me to thank me in front of my own kids at school drop-off. People try to bring up the details of combat, which I’m not interested in talking about. The worst is at the grocery store. I often stop by on my way home to pick up ingredients for dinner, and for whatever reason the produce aisle seems to bring out the most obsessed veteran-hunters. Handshakes. Bro-fists and chest bumps. Crazy-uncle jingoism. And so many uninvited hugs.

Recently, while I was grabbing some produce off the shelves, a woman came up to me from behind and initiated a hug completely out of nowhere. A lost-in-thought combat veteran is not a good person to surprise. I spun around, took a step back, and asked the lady not to touch me. She backed away with tears in her eyes, and another woman who’d seen what happened gave me a dirty look. I told her that I was just as entitled to my personal space as she was and that my clothes weren’t an invitation for physical contact. Yesterday in the checkout line a woman approached me, looking nervous, then handed me a $100 gift card for the grocery store. I told her I didn’t want it and she should give it to someone who needs it (I get paid plenty), but she insisted. (I took the card and donated it to a local charity that serves refugees.)

It probably beats getting spit on, but people are hard to please.


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