Memorial Day: “Thank You For Your Service”

I don’t very often have guest posts on my blog, but this short essay from an old friend is worth the space here, and the small amount of your time it will take to read it.

I thought it fitting to publish this for Memorial Day.

American Flag

I don’t think Ken needs to justify himself, but he added this to the front: “Let me preface this article with this statement; I am a veteran of both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy, and served from Vietnam to Beirut, so I have paid the admission price and earned my speaking privileges.”

– – –

Don’t Thank Me with Words

by Ken Wright

It has become very popular to tell veterans and active duty military people, “Thank you for your service.” A very noble sentiment on the surface, but why are people doing it, really?

I am old enough to have experienced the very different reception that was given to Vietnam era veterans where veterans were spat upon, called names like “murderer, baby killer, baby burner,” etc. Sometimes veterans and people who were there (America 1960s-70s) try to compensate for the shameful actions still lodged in their memories. The mantra has become (and rightly so) “Hate the war, not the warrior!”

There are others, unfortunately, and they seem the most vocal and public, who just want to feel good about themselves. They want to be seen thanking veterans and by doing so, share the “spotlight” and gain the image of being “Patriotic.” It isn’t really about the veteran, it is all about them and what a flag waving American they are.

If you really want to thank a Veteran:

Stop voting for people intent on getting rich by sending our youth off to war.

Stop voting for people who see veterans as an expendable commodity that once used can be thrown away.

Stop voting for people who deny help for military families who need food stamps to exist month to month.

Stop voting for people who make it impossible for veterans and their families to get the education they need to build a better life.

Stop voting for people who only serve the highest bidder and could not care less if your grandmother loses her home and has to live in a cardboard box under a bridge while you are serving your country in Afghanistan and her Social Security and Medicare are taken away.

If you really want to show your appreciation, understand that what the men and women who have lost their lives, body parts, or their minds, really fought for; that being for ALL of us to be treated equally, not just the ones who look like George Washington.

Real patriots believe: that Every American life matters, not just the ones who look like you. All religions are of equal value, yours is not more correct or important because you follow it. All citizens have the same right to free speech, especially those with whom you disagree most.

So don’t thank me… show me.

– – –

© 2015 Ken Wright, published with permission.

33 Comments on “Memorial Day: “Thank You For Your Service”

  1. Amen, Ken!

    If there is one thing that NEVER fails to enrage me, it is the sky high military budgets the politicians refuse to cut for equipment not wanted or needed, and yet, there never seems to be a dime left over for the soldiers who put their lives on the line to protect our country.

    Why is it a potential recruit is good enough to risk life and limb in a war zone, and is suddenly not of consequence when he or she gets home? Why are there homeless veterans? Why do soldiers (active duty and veterans) have to face endless red tape to see a doctor? Why is the suicide rate so high amongst veterans? Why is a “Thank you for your service” the only thing people can say or do for a veteran? What happened to the community spirit that if someone was in trouble, the community would come together and help them?

    Have we changed that much? What is the soldier fighting for?

  2. Thank you Ken.

    As a fellow Vietnam vet, I appreciate what you have said. And you were able to say it far better than I would have been able to.

    Too often people vote for a party or an ideology, when often the person they vote for doesn’t support either.

    Find candidates that will do the right thing and support them and get your friends and neighbors to support them.

  3. Probably the BEST Memorial/Remembrance/Veterans’ day letter/article/statement that I have ever read. It applies up here too, though perhaps not to such a great degree as for our American cousins. I should be published in every newspaper, magazine, pamphlet, applicable website, you name it. It should be read on TV and the Radio. Thanks.

  4. I didn’t understand my discomfort with seemingly disingenuous words, but you have given voice to my feelings. I agree with what you said, and that nobody is disposable. Veterans need access to whatever it takes to continue to live their lives with dignity.

  5. Thank you Ken.

    As a fellow Vietnam vet (Phan Rang AFB 66-67), I appreciate what you have said. You said it far better than I ever could.

  6. Thank you for _this_ service, Ken. I did USMC instead, 1964-72, Danang and Chu Lai twice.

    Somehow, I’ve never met anybody who actually knows someone who was spat on on their return. I suspect that part’s an urban legend.

    All the same, it’s obvious that vets have got a short, grubby end of the stick in many ways.

    In my last two years (at El Toro), we found out that my family (wife, two daughters) qualified for Food Stamps. But then my first year’s W2 was for $989 (starting January 4th.) We didn’t bother, I got out and continued with my life.

    All too many others didn’t, and still haven’t.

    Continue your education, folks, knowing it’s harder than ever, and good sources are NOT obvious. Dig them out.

    All governments lie; even the ‘news’ industry, now owned by (is it now 5 or 6) corporations, lies. Look farther. Good Luck!

  7. I missed Viet Nam by a few years and I’m too cussed ornery for the military anyway. But this is has been my view and informed every vote, every letter, every political action or comment. War is the final option, not the first. If the fight is unavoidable veteran care is part of the bill. We have not done well for the people fighting our wars for the most part, and we should be ashamed.

    Ike warned about ‘the military-industrial complex’ and we promptly ignored him, to our great loss. Maybe if our leaders were put on the front lines they would try harder to avoid starting a war?

  8. Ken, I definitely agree with some of the earlier posters — you have put into words many of my thoughts. Thank you! I was at Long Binh Post in 1969-70, with the 95th M P Bn. Not in direct combat, but also not a choice vacation spot.

    I was never spat on, but I did hear some derogatory comments. Having been warned that I might hear such enroute home, I was surprised when my seat-mate on a flight from San Francisco to Seattle, a businessman, did thank me — and then showed me his lapel pin device for the Bronze Star.

    Thanks, again, Ken (and Randy for sharing your blog.)

  9. I have been saying the same thing for years, he just said it a lot better than I have.

    People need to vote, people need to learn about who is running, or ruining, the government. Don’t just vote for the Democrat or Republican because your parents did, learn and vote, it’s not hard.

  10. Well said Ken.

    Sadly, even here in Australia there is a history of the politicians talking up the Armed Forces whilst not doing a damn thing for the people that serve after they have served, and sometime during their service.

    During my time as an Army Reservist we copped a lot of abuse even in peace-time, though nothing like the crap that Viet Nam vets have talked about. Never understood where that comes from.

    Your comments apply just as equally here too, and I thank you for stating it so clearly.

  11. As an almost complete outsider (non American, but I did serve in our Mickey Mouse military) I have never understood the apparent difficulty that Americans seem to have separating the serviceman from the MF politician that sent him into a war no-one wanted. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the overwhelming impression we get in the rest of the world, based on news reports, TV, and the movies, is that there is a vast part of the population of the USA that just doesn’t think, but accepts the bigotry their parents / teachers / community shove down their throats from birth.

    Ah well I suppose it’s the same everywhere, we just get more material from the US than anywhere else. Thank goodness for editorial content like This Is True, encouraging us to question whatever conventional wisdom we are inclined to regurgitate every time someone pushes our buttons.

    An astute observation that the U.S. seems worse because you get so much media from us. But yes, there are varying degrees of corruption everywhere, since humans are involved in the control of other humans. -rc

  12. “Thank you for your service” is worth exactly what it costs. However sincere the sentiment may be, to this Vietnam veteran it feels demeaning. Are you really grateful for our service? Give a week’s pay to an organization (NOT the Wounded Warriors) that helps and supports veterans. Surely their lives and limbs are worth 2% of your pay, aren’t they?

    Or, in my opinion, they can perform some service themselves, even if they disagree with the military. They can volunteer with their fire department or EMS, serve on public boards, even pick up litter — regularly, not just once. But indeed, giving lip service doesn’t go very far. -rc

  13. I am intrigued by Dick’s comment,which urges support for veterans groups, but NOT Wounded Warriors. In multiple campaigns over local radio, this is touted as a compassionate charitable support group that really does benefit our veterans and their families. Did I miss something?

  14. I know this is off topic but, I just wanted to touch on the denigration of Wounded Warrior Project. I have several family members who are veterans and one in particular who considers his survival wholly a result of the efforts of this organization in helping him to get treated for PTSD. Sometimes, what organizations such as this give the veteran is an advocate. Someone not in the bureaucracy that can help navigate the maze of programs for them. These programs are significant in that with the bureaucracy, you can be in the office right next to the one that can help you and all they will do is tell you, “No.”, without telling you the people right next door are the ones that can help. So this is why I leap to the defense when others say things against this charity but if you want it from a different source the link is next.

    Now, having done that, I am not saying you need to go out and donate to WWP today, but rather saying think for yourself. And if I may, make a suggestion, next Veterans day engage a vet in conversation about charities. Ask him if there is one in particular that really helped him or his buddies. National Organizations such as WWP tend to be very effective nationally but might not be as effective as it is in mine, in your area. It all comes down to the local organization and outreach.

    Then investigate the charity yourself with the various groups such as Better Business Bureau, etc. Don’t just blindly write a check. One thing my dad always told me about how he checked out veteran’s charities, he would just ask the local commander of the American Legion before he donated. If they never heard of it, well, it’s probably not working for vets in the area.

    Now, with that said, I still want to say this, and though it runs contrary to Ken’s whole point. To all Veterans reading this, I appreciate your service. You may not have served in a forward area. You may not have touched a gun except for basic. But, you still stood up and served. Which is ten million times more than this deaf country boy ever could do. My civilian mind may never comprehend what you did or perhaps are still doing. Just as it doesn’t comprehend fully the duties of the doctors, nurses, EMTs, firefighters and police except for the romanticized version we get on the brain drain tube or the idiotnet. But, just as I know from when I was sick and the doctor’s made me well as a child, I *know*, we are free because of men and women like you. Some of us perhaps undeservingly free, like spoiled children who question our parent’s rules in the same breath that they ask for money for the movies. But, I so very much DO appreciate it. THANK YOU one and all! I hope we continue to “earn” this.

    The stated objection to WWP above wasn’t that it’s a “Legal Scam” (which the linked article refutes well, even if horribly written), but rather that WWP seems to be anti-gun, which angers the Second Amendment crowd. Of course, the anti-gun crowd will use that as a reason to support WWP. -rc

  15. I’m an ex-American who served for 3 years (’70-’73) in the in the US Army. I had friends & relatives who also served and some, too many, came back dead, crippled, or wounded. I was lucky I guess, my wounds were only mental, & compared to some others, not that bad. As I look at the wars that have come and gone or are still going on since then, I have to ask myself if Canada & and the US are doing more harm than good. I look at who goes to fight those wars, not the offspring of the rich or politicians for sure. I keep thinking about the legal question, “Who benefits?” Somehow I don’t think it is the veterans.

    If you want to thank me for my service:

    • vote for politicians who are veterans or whose kids are in the service (if you can find any
    • make sure that vets have the health services they need
    • understand that the vet’s view of the world may not be yours (& and be thankful it isn’t)
    • defend what I thought I was defending; safety, rights & justice for all
    • if you have the slightest doubt about the next war, don’t support it (there is a world of difference between the war and those who have to fight it

    Thanks Ken (and Randy). You and the other commenters brought back some memories and feelings that I never want to lose.

    Too many want to “just forget it” …but that’s why we make the same mistakes again and again. -rc

  16. I enjoy your This is True website, and occasionally read your blogs. This one struck a bell, and I commented. You did not deem it worthy of posting, which, of course, is your privilege. For my own information, so I can avoid a similar situation in the future, would you be so kind as to tell me why my post was not accepted?


    I assume you mean comment (not post). I searched and found no comment from you on this post. If you do not put something in the name field and a valid email address in that field, the comment is automatically discarded. That’s not a function that I’ve programmed in, but rather a normal feature of this software, to avoid the huge amounts of spam that popular blogs attract. -rc

  17. If you read the full article at the end it does address the “anti-gun” charge as well, just not as much space is devoted to it.

  18. I grew up in the Vietnam era and was active in the anti-war movement. But there is a huge difference between opposing the war and not respecting the men and women who served. Nobody I knew in the anti-war groups I hung out with had anything but respect for those who put their ‘boots on the ground’. I don’t think there has been a justified war since WWII, but that is beside the point. I agree with everything that Ken said.

    Whenever I see one of those ‘copy this picture of the US flag’ on Facebook, or see some patriotic schmaltz about ‘thanking a vet’ I usually post something like ‘if you want to thank a vet, push away from your computer, get out a pen and paper, and write your Congressperson and tell them to quit treating our Vets like a disposable commodity — something to use up and forget’.

    I never served, but even as an anti-war protestor in the 60’s it made me so angry at the way we treated our veterans that I wanted to punch something. And nothing has changed.

    Keep writing, Ken and maybe, someday, people will finally realize that something needs to change — and it needs to change in Washington. If it won’t change in Washington, then we need to change who we send to Washington.

  19. Ken refers in the essay to returning Vietnam veterans being spat upon and called names such as baby-killers. While this has become a widely-held belief, it appears to be more urban legend than reality.

    I was part of the anti-war movement, and while I obviously can’t speak for every person or group in the movement I can say that I am not aware of any person or group engaging in such actions or encouraging others to do so.

    There were hundreds of different anti-war slogans, anti-war buttons, anti-war bumper stickers; I am not aware of any which referred to veterans as baby-killers.

    There were numerous anti-war folks songs. Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Holly Near and Tom Paxton were prominent anti-war folk singers. I do not recall any song which attacked veterans as baby-killers. (I do recall Phil Ochs’ very pro-veteran song “The Men Behind the Guns”.)

    There were numerous anti-war rallies and demonstrations, but I don’t recall any in which veterans were attacked as baby-killers. There was a widely-used chant which called LBJ a child-killer; I am not aware of any chant which called veterans that. There were numerous leaflets and newsletters published, but I don’t recall any which called veterans baby-killers.

    If there was widespread calling of veterans baby-killers, there should be evidence to support the claim. But as far as I know those looking for such evidence have so far failed to turn up any contemporary newspaper stories about such incidents, any contemporary news broadcast footage of such incidents, any contemporary newspaper opinion pieces or editorial cartoons or anti-war newsletters where veterans are called baby-killers.

    Jerry Lembcke has a book, The Spitting Image, which I have not yet read but which I found mention of in doing a quick online search before writing this comment. It sounds like a useful resource for those interested in learning more about the lack of evidence to support the claim that returning veterans were spat upon.

    I don’t doubt that such charges have been amplified to discredit the anti-war protestors. But I remember watching (on TV) soldiers returning home from Vietnam and being screamed at by anti-war protestors — but not from close enough to spit at them. Part of what they were screaming at was the My Lai Massacre, where as many as 504 civilian Vietnamese men, women, and children were killed despite not being a threat. A photo of some of the dead was used to create an anti-war poster captioned with the words from a “60 Minutes” interview with one of the participants in My Lai. “And babies?” asked Mike Wallace of U.S. soldier Paul Meadlo. “And babies,” he confirmed. The poster, created in 1969, was “easily the most successful poster to vent the outrage that so many felt about the conflict in Southeast Asia,” says cultural historian M. Paul Holsinger. So it would not surprise me in the least if the screaming at returning soldiers including some venting of outrage over My Lai, even if participating in such an atrocity was unthinkable for the vast majority of soldiers. -rc

  20. I have not served myself, but I have a few veterans among my friends, two of them close friends. Veterans aren’t treated better in Canada than they are in the U.S.A.

    I had the misfortune (for me, but good fortune for her) of sleeping over when one of my friends had a PTSD-induced nightmare. Holding her, I never felt so helpless, trying to calm her down. Not all wounds are visible, but they all need treatment.

    They chose to serve, knowing fully that the ultimate sacrifice might be asked of them some day. Let’s make every day a Rememberance or Veteran’s Day. I know who I’m NOT voting for in the next federal election. I’ll wait to see who turns up in my riding before I decide who I wish to send to Ottawa in my name.

    I’m sorry to hear it’s no better in Canada. -rc

  21. The article referenced above says WWP has revenues of about 235 million and spends 118 million on services for veterans. Spending 50% of income on charity seems to be fairly inefficient.

    Charity Navigator gives them a score (out of 100) of 80.77 for Financial, and 96.00 for Accountability & Transparency. Here’s how they spend their money (for tax year 2013, the most recent available at this moment):

    Program Expenses (delivering services): 57.7%
    Admin Overhead: 5.7%
    Fundraising Expense: 36.5%
    (I assume .1% lost in rounding, which is amusing since their scores go to 1/100th of a point)

    Fundraising expense strikes me as pretty high. (Details) -rc

  22. I am an RN who took care of injured Viet Nam vets while employed by the Institute of Rehab Medicine in NYC from ’66-68. All these years later, I remember working nights and sitting with vets who were having nightmares…these men were either paralyzed, or amputees &/or had some form of brain damage. They were “lucky” NOT to be in the Bronx VA where rats would run over the bodies of paralyzed men…cannot imagine what that was like…seeing this happen and not being able to do anything about it… Thanks, Ken for your piece.

  23. I returned to the states in San Francisco, I still have a set of whites with dog shit stains on them. I was a Navy Hard Hat Diver. This was in 1967.

  24. As a Navy Hospital Corpsman I was stationed at the Naval Hospital in Oakland,CA in 1974. When my buddies and I would go on liberty to San Francisco it was not uncommon to be harrangued by civilians as murderers, war mongers, and on a few occasions as baby killers. We experienced being spat on, having beer and food thrown at us along with many obsenities. As corpsmen we were humanitarians trying to help our fellow man. Our only crime was having short hair. In San Diego I attended a Padre’s game with 2 shipmates and recieved the same behavior and worse. Yes our ship had just returned from Vietnam but the fans didn’t have any way of knowing that. We even had what appeared to be a dirty diaper thrown at us. I can assure you that this IS NOT AN URBAN MYTH.

    Thanks, guys, for your first-hand testimony. -rc

  25. Mr. Wright has expressed well his distaste for the generally vacuous (in my opinion), socially compliant, ill fitting and condescending (perhaps unintended) mantra “Thank you for your service”. His main point (show me, don’t just tell me) is well taken. Others commenting have touched on the value of this approach (Richard- “Always good advice”; Pierre- “Probably the BEST Memorial day…statement that I have ever read”) while others have offered solutions (Ralph- “I just wish more people voted.”; John- “People need to vote…”; Ron- “…vote for politicians who are veterans…”) that may or may not make a difference. In my opinion, voting will not work to reduce the problem of too much war. Here’s my suggestion: get educated on, and get active within, your State’s movement to reestablish your People’s Grand Jury at Common Law.

    (Start here…)

    You will find that YOU, meaning The People, have the ultimate power to reduce the funding YOUR national government employees supply to the war machine thereby reducing the trauma experienced by humanity in this evil pursuit of war. Bring the soldiers home.

  26. I have to say this really saddens me. I live in the National Capital Region and try to say, “Thank you for your service” as often as I can to those that have served. I have never given thought to who was watching or what anyone thought of me while doing it. I did it to let them know that there are people that appreciate what they have done. I almost always vote for politicians that support our veterans. I write letters to them to let them know I want to continue to do so. I am appalled at the way returning Vietnam veterans were treated and have worked hard to show those returning from more recent conflicts the appreciation, respect and honor they deserve.

    I had no idea that when I have been saying “Thank you for your service” that the recipients of my comments assumed I was doing it to only to share in their glory. I didn’t know they assumed I did not back up my words with votes and actions. I guess I’ll stop saying it. I am truly mortified that I may have inadvertently insulted or angered any of the veterans I hold so high in my esteem when I told them that.

  27. To all who commented, thank you for taking the time to write.

    No one wants to think that Americans have ever behaved badly towards anyone, much less the hero figure that is the American military person, but sadly it is true. I speak from personal experience that yes we were spat upon, called names, and had things thrown at us. Not everyone treated us that way but it only takes once or twice and you start seeing the public in a different way. It was insulting and humiliating and taught us to keep to ourselves.

    There isn’t one word in my article that tells you to vote for one party or the other, nor do I care which party anyone belongs to. What I implore you all to do is vote with your eyes open. Check the facts, see how candidates vote, research the topics and then vote for the person who will do what is closest to what you want them to do. Like education, caring for veterans only works if adequately funded and shouldn’t even be considered as a place to “trim the budget.”

    You all probably remember the adage from going shopping with your parents as a kid that said, “You break it, you buy it!” Well, we have broken many thousands of our military personnel and now we have to pay the price, whatever it costs. This is not a budget item, it is a responsibility.

    To Judith from Alexandria, VA. — I believe that you fall into the first category that I mentioned, those who know the indignities suffered by Vietnam veterans and feel a real need to correct that. It in no way makes you disingenuous or fake, nor does it make you a glory hound. I appreciate the fact that you not only vote wisely, but write letters supporting veterans’ issues. You will make a difference with your actions, for which I thank you.

    A note for those who need to publicly express their thanks:

    Many more veterans have PTSD than the public realizes and the extra attention can be very difficult. For me strangers (especially loud people) wanting to grab my hand or touch me can be problematic. As is being approached from behind and grabbed or poked. Take a moment to observe before acting, if a veteran is quiet and reserved in public, chances are pretty good that they will not welcome loud and unrequested attention from someone else either. Just use some common sense and keep it low key.

  28. Ken, one paragraph in your follow-up comment really struck me. The ‘you break it, you bought it’. With your permission I would like to report that on Facebook and a couple of blogs I frequent. I would post either with, or without, attribution depending on your preference. Let me know.

    Knowing Ken as I do, he would have no problem with that whatever. Feel free to include the URL of this page as a source, or not, according to your preference. And yeah, I thought it was a good turn of phrase too! Really communicates. -rc

  29. My father served in WWI, my wife’s father participated in the Normandy invasion as a paratrooper, I served in Vietnam, and my son is active duty in the Air Force and has served in the Middle East several times. I agree with Mr. Wright completely, but would add another element.

    When we abandoned our Vietnamese allies in 1972, and they were conquered by the North 3 years later I felt like my entire experience there was wasted. I was in Vietnam in 1965-66 and served as a medical officer. I spent most of my time in the Mekong Delta helicoptering to outlying villages dealing with their myriad medical problems, including infectious disease and injury. The Vietnamese with whom I worked as an advisor were hard working and intelligent. They trusted us and we worked together well and became friends. I came to learn that after we abandoned our allies, the North Vietnamese were particularly cruel to anyone who had anything to do with the Americans. My interpreter, who spoke 3 languages, had some medical knowledge was sent to a “reeducaton camp” for 4 years away from his wife and 10 year old daughter. When released he was only allowed to work at the lowest level possible — a bicycle cyclo driver.
    I tell this story because one of the many things that a veteran asks is the question: did we do good? And if the answer is in the negative, it can be an important cause of depression. Now, I personally believe that our entry into the Vietnam war was completely justified. We responded to a cry for help from the South who were in danger of invasion from the North. Yes, the South Vietnamese government was corrupt, but no more so than the repressive Communist regime in the North. The problem is that we did not wage that war effectively or deal well with the South Vietnamese government. There are several books on the subject, the best of which is Why Vietnam Matters by Rufus Phillips.

    We didn’t wage the war properly, we did not encourage a decent South Vietnamese government, and we abandoned our allies. In fact, given these facts it would have been “better” not to have been involved in the first place.

    So, the comment I would like to add to Mr Wright’s list is for the powers that be to be very careful in choosing a conflict to be involved in. When certain the choice is correct, then wage the war in a way to lead to certain victory: Behave in such a way the populace supports you, support those who are allies unreservedly, crush the enemy relentlessly (incremental escalation has never worked, nor have “red lines”), and offer peace to those who lay down arms. Then our veterans can return home feeling a sense of accomplishment that they have improved the world.


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