So tomorrow is Veteran’s Day. It used to be Armistice Day, but I guess we got bored acknowledging that old war, and didn’t want to use up a whole new day for Veterans, nor did we want to throw away a perfectly broken-in holiday (11/11).
I’ve been a veteran now for over 40 years, having separated from active duty in December of 1973. I remember quite clearly the first time anyone ever said “Thank you for your service,” to me. I remember because it wasn’t very long ago, perhaps six or eight years. On November eleventh, a contractor named Eric who was working for me asked if I were a veteran. I told the truth without thinking about it, and he said the magic formula. I was stunned for a couple of seconds, then said, “Thanks for acknowledging it.” It seemed flippant to have said, “My pleasure,” or “Don’t mention it,” or even the meaningless, “You’re welcome.” It doesn’t seem like the sort of, “Thank you,” that’s properly served by those responses.
Ever since, I’ve noticed more and more acknowledgement in that vein. And lately not just around the “Eleventh day of the Eleventh Month.” There are street signs up, and restaurants are offering discounts. True, they’re small discounts, and your booze isn’t included – but still. And interestingly, they don’t ask for any evidence whatsoever – they don’t want to see your DD214 or where it says “Veteran” on your driver’s license (for which you had to show your DD214).
I’ve seen a few, “Don’t thank me,” essays on various blogs I’ve flipped by or through on the web. Most have a string of comment responses, pro and con or “WTF?” but I haven’t really read any of them, posting or comments. I guess I don’t care what my “brother veterans” think about it or have to say about it (“it” being getting “thanked for my service.”)
But I don’t, for the life of me, know how I feel about it or what I think about it. On the one hand, it was, after all, a time when we had mandatory conscription, so at the 50,000 foot level it was “serve or go to jail.” (Yes, I know all the caveats and exceptions, never mind.) In addition, I came from a culture (white, anglo, northern, Boomer, son of a USN veteran of two wars, college-educated) where it was what you did. So thanking me feels like “Thanks for driving on the right-hand side of the road.”
And on another hand, I have to ask why, on the one hand, we’ve come to call our GIs with service-related disabilities “heroes” and on the other their needs are being so ill-served by the government that put them in harm’s way that guys in cowboy hats have to beg on TV for donations to help them?
Either way, “You’re welcome, don’t mention it, it was my pleasure.” (I’ve gotten over my notion that these are necessarily flippant).