Thank a Veteran

It’s a time of year where we all enjoy spending time with friends and family. Let’s never forget those who are unable to because of their commitment to defending our country.

I frequent a Starbucks near a local military base. I often encounter men and women in uniform there. Even if I have to go out of my way, I always make a point to express my gratitude for their service. Most politely smile and thank me for my support. I do remember a special encounter I had with a veteran several Christmas seasons ago.

I saw an Air Force captain standing in line with a woman I presumed to be his wife. I walked up to him and said, “Thank you for your service.” His head jolted back. After a brief pause he extended his hand. As I shook it he thanked me. His wife also seemed surprised while she thanked me, as well. This time I was the one who politely smiled back.

I returned to my seat and resumed reading the current edition of Foreign Affairs magazine. (For those who don’t appreciate what our veterans are doing for us, try reading that publication.) Over my shoulder I noticed the captain and his wife sitting at the table across from me. His gaze firmly locked on me. Visions of an unanticipated trip to the Air Force recruiter entered my mind.

I let out a mild sigh of relief as the captain and his wife stood up and walked to the door.  Before leaving he approached me. He extended his hand once more and said, “I just want to tell you how much it means that you thanked me.”  I tried to pshaw the idea, but he was adamant. He’d just completed 90 days in Afghanistan and was home on leave for Christmas. He sincerely appreciated the recognition for his service. It troubled me that it surprised him so much.

Seeing him and his wife reminded me of my own family history. My father, Ed Stephany, Jr., served in Vietnam. He and my mom had only been married three years when he received his draft notice.  They’d just started their new life together. With a new bride at home and a job that had been going very well, Dad dutifully entered the Army. On his very first day in country his bunk mates told him how fortunate he was to be stationed in Nha Trang. “We never get attacked,” they laughed. That night the Tet Offensive began. My father and his unit were shelled several times a week for the next year.

Thank a veteran.

People in my family have served in America’s conflicts going all the way back to the Revolutionary War. I’ve never personally served in the military. I have no illusions as to why my entire generation hasn’t been subject to mandatory military service. The sacrifices of our service people past and present allowed us that luxury. Let us never forget to express our appreciation to those in uniform. We all owe them, their families and friends an immense debt of gratitude. It’s one that we’ll never have the capability to repay. At the very least, especially during this Holiday Season, we can say, “Thank you.”