Why are you thanking me?

Posted on November 11, 2010

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Today started for me about two weeks ago when my boss informed me that he needed volunteers to take the upcoming holidays off in an attempt to save the city money in these tough times. Veterans day? Sure, why not. Due to some other circumstances it would allow me to have a five day weekend. Plus my better half had a medical procedure that day and it would allow me to be home with her for it.

So, last night I went through the motions of hanging my American flag outside in the cool Arizona night.

The day started off simple enough. Coffee, breakfast, feed the cats, flip on the news, check Facebook. While checking Facebook I began to see a myriad of messages of thanks to veterans. Some of them were even personalized to me. Soon, texts from family and friends started to blow up my phone.

“Happy Veterans Day! Thank you for your service”!

“Happy V day…I’m proud of you”!

“Thank you for your services big bro”!

When I see these I can’t help but to wonder how the hell Vietnam Vets didn’t get this kind of appreciation when they came home. It makes me feel a little guilty, all the attention.

After breakfast I turned the TV to the History Channel where I knew I would find a lot of military shows on. I was starting to get into the spirit of things. After several hours of watching documentaries about WW1 battles, it was time to take my wife to her appointment. I got dressed and on the way out the door I reached for my old USS Nimitz hat instead of my regular cap. I donned it, took a look in the mirror and noticed how much my faced has changed since the days that it was part of my uniform.

On the way home from the appointment we stopped at a local convience store to pick up a few things. As I approached the front door a young man, maybe 25 years old,  held the door open for me and insisted I enter before him. I thanked him but was a little taken aback when he responded by saying, “No, thank you. It’s YOUR day”. That’s when I was reminded of the hat I was wearing on my head. I soon collected the items and went to the cash register to pay. The cashier looked up at my hat and with a smile he didn’t hide very well, rung up my items. For some reason, my bill was just under $10. It was not until later that I realized it should have been more than that.

We got home and I got my wife into bed. Soon, I too was taking a nap. We both woke up around 5:30. Because I am pathetic, my first reaction upon waking up is to check my phone for messages and Facebook updates. I noticed my buddy Jon’s wife had posted that they were going to Applebees for a free dinner. Apparently they were doing this as a promotion to honor veterans. I looked over at my wife who was still recovering from her earlier procedure and mentioned how cool that Applebees was doing that.

It was at that moment that she announced that we were going there. I protested and insisted she stay in bed. Despite all of my military training, I was unable to win the fight. She stated that her husband was a veteran and “dammit he’s going to get a free dinner on HIS day”. So, despite her massive amount of pain from spinal injections recieved only a few hours earlier, we were soon standing in a long line outside of Applebees. Amazing.

There were balloons and signs everywhere. Men and women of all ages were wearing pins, jackets, hats, and shirts that denoted their own individual branch of service. Complete strangers were in line sharing their stories of where they were stationed and what the did in the service. We began to have a conversation with a gentleman and his wife. He had been stationed at Williams Air Force base in 1975 and had lived here ever since; his wife grasping his discharge papers and asking him questions about the information it contained. I checked my pocket to ensure that my proof of service was still there in case they “carded me”. Soon his name was called to be seated and as he walked away he looked over at me and said “it’s kind of nice to be part of a group isn’t it”? I agreed and as he walked away he thanked me for my service. I gave him an uncomforatable nod and reciprocated the statement.

Soon dinner was being consumed. I noted a female soldier in the corner of the restaurant in full uniform having dinner with what appeared to be her father. I mentioned to my wife how cool that was as she appeared to be telling him animated stories about her life in the service; no doubt a source of common ground for her and her father. Soon, they finished their meal and walked out. After I paid my bill, I was thanked again for my service and walked outside to get the truck and pull it to the curb for my wife. As I walked out, I noticed that same fully uniformed soldier adjusting an American flag that was hanging from the Applebees wall outside and that had apparently become twisted in an unflattering manner while flapping in the cool night air. What a sight it was to see her take the time to do that. And in full uniform, by herself, on Veterans Day, when she thought nobody was watching.

For years I had never understood why vets didn’t like to be called hero’s and balked at any attention that was given to them. Then I became one of them and it became more understandable. They, like me, don’t think they did anything special. We all just did our jobs no matter what they were. Many have seen combat, some are Special Forces types. But many, the majority of the men and woman who make up our armed forces I think are the regular folks. The mechanics, the nurses, the deck hands, the cooks, the dental techs, the fuel guys and the truck drivers. For me it was spending four years of my life onboard a nuclear powered aircraft carrier cleaning decks, painting, and training to keep a ship afloat for an epic sea battle that would never come. Glorious? Heroic? Worthy of being “thanked”? Not in my eyes and to be honest, I never know what to say when people thank me for my service. It’s actually quite an awkward feeling.

But it was at that moment outside of Applebees that I truly understood what everyone was thanking me for. Watching that soldier fix that flag in full uniform outside of the restaurant was truly a sight to be seen. It was at that moment as I peered at her through my windshield that I realized that it didn’t matter what her job was, or mine for that matter. I was just thankful that she was wearing the uniform and fixing a tattered flag.

We drove home and as I pulled up to my house I noticed my own flag had become twisted up sometime during the day. I didn’t notice it when we left, but for some reason I noticed it when I came home.

Now I understand.

And as difficult as it is for me to say still…you are welcome.

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