I heard something really refreshing this morning, from a former Marine.
He called in to a local radio program to answer a question they were asking about the use of certain phrases and gestures by civilians: Is it okay to salute a soldier? -- is it okay for a civilian to say semper fi? That kind of thing. They were worried about being disrespectful to members of the military.
During the conversation, they asked this Marine how he preferred to be thanked for his service. He got a little antsy and said it didn't matter and he added that no matter how it is done, it is "kind of awkward" being thanked.
When they (breathlessly) asked why, he said that he had simply joined because it was what he wanted to do; it was a job he wanted. He said, "Thanking me for being a Marine is like thanking someone for liking peanut butter and jelly."
At this point, the radio hosts started to panic. It was a bit embarrassing to listen to and it was unintentionally comical. What followed wasn't just an attempt to get this guy not to be so humble; it was as if a kid in a Catholic school religion class had said, "Meh -- I'm sorry Father, but I just don't think God is that big of a deal." It was almost as if they wanted to delete what this guy said. He had ruined everything! They almost got abrupt with him.
He stood his ground, quietly and with dignity.
As you may have picked up by now, if you read this blog on any kind of a regular basis, I believe more value should be put on private interactions than on public ones. If you want to thank a soldier, thank a soldier any way you want and don't wave a banner while you are doing it. If the way you do it makes him or her uncomfortable, so be it, as long as your intentions are sincere.
Me? I like to thank them by saying prayers for them. Prayers that they don't die before they are old enough to buy beer; prayers that if they are being put in harm's way it is for a very good reason; prayers that when they get home, they are not ruined by the horrors they endured. (I used to watch the face of an otherwise jolly great uncle transform when he talked about D-Day; I'll always remember it.) To me, prayer means a lot more than offering soldiers a cookie-cutter phrase for everyone to hear. I respect their service; I respect their privacy and I really respect the honesty of the Marine above. I have heard many veterans say similar things.
Does it make their service any less admirable? Of course not. Major Dick Winters -- leader of the legendary Easy Company that was immortalized by Stephen Ambrose and, later, by Stephen Spielberg, in the Band of Brothers miniseries -- joined because he knew he was going to get drafted eventually and he wanted to get his tour of duty over with faster. That doesn't make him less of a hero, but it probably makes him a guy who doesn't want fanfares and parades for what he did.
This is important (because I can see the comments coming): I'm not saying there isn't value in public recognition. Of course there is. I am just saying our private recognition doesn't always have to be made public and that we should question whether that recognition is being offered for our own benefit or for that of the soldier we are thanking.
Bottom line: just be sincere. You don't have to be perfect and you don't have to be "correct" and you don't have to post on Twitter that you just thanked a soldier. There is no need to put a spotlight on our own admirable behavior when it should be placed upon the objects of our attention, instead. If we are the praying kind, we can just pray. If we are not the praying kind, we can hope really, really hard for their well being after all that they sacrificed.