Thanking more than veterans for their service
After I retired from 20 years in the military — a career that took me and my family through nine household moves all over the world — I returned home to New England.
I worked for the Veterans Health Administration and at the veterans’ home in Holyoke.
My dad was a veteran, all my uncles were veterans, my grandfather was a veteran. I’ve been around veterans literally since the day I was born.
I therefore think I can tell you with great confidence that we veterans, by and large, get a lot of recognition during the month of November.
I get asked all the time, "How do you feel when someone says, 'Thank you for your service'?"
My reaction to that question depends on my mood. I may feel happy and proud or I may feel ambivalent sometimes. (Like, how sincere is the thank-you? It can feel perfunctory).
These days, when I'm thanked, I take the opportunity to educate. First, I say, "You are welcome" and "Thank you for taking the moment to say that."
But then I ask, "Do you have a moment to listen?"
And then I talk to them about my family and all that they've been through and how I wish people would thank them too. Because family members of veterans have also served. In fact they often continue to serve.
You don’t often hear about family members of veterans — I'm talking about their spouses, sons and daughters and significant others. Not only did they send their loved one off to serve, but once the military service is over, they may be thrust into the role of caregiver. Many of the caregivers have secondary trauma themselves.
When service members return home from war or take off their uniform for civilian clothes, we’re a stones' throw away from our friends and loved ones, but often a world apart. And our family members suffer from that distance between us and our civilian community.
You can show your concern and appreciation by going beyond that thank-you, by asking that veteran you've just thanked how his or her family is doing. And learn about how you can help them.
All month long at venues across the region there are events highlighting our experiences as military veterans and those of our families. Check with your local veterans’ services department to find ways to actually connect with veterans and their family members, who are your neighbors.
That's the best way you can thank us.
Happy Veterans Day.
John Paradis is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. He and his wife live in Northampton, Massachusetts.