For me dates like Veterans Day, Memorial Day and other personally significant days on a calendar will always conjure memories of the dates, places and names of those who are engraved on the bracelet I wear on my wrist every day. Sometimes those thank you’s or generously offered freebies can make us feel uncomfortable. For me personally I feel that I am not the one people should be thanking or grateful for. Their words spin in my mind and bounce from event to event like a flash on a film reel. In my head, the gratitude owed is to those who never came back and that’s it. People tell me, “Andrew, that is what Memorial Day is for, Veterans Day is to thank everyone who served and are still serving.” While I agree with this statement to an extent, I just shake my head up and down in a yes motion, respectfully say thank you and move along because those who have never served don’t truly understand the mind of a Veteran.

What is a Veteran? Well, the VA Defines it under Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations defines a veteran as “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.” These are the men and women who have walked the walk, signed their name on a piece of paper and wrote a blank check to this country for up to and including their life. Life after service is not without consequences however. This generation of soldiers has known nothing but war since the day they enlisted. These brave men and women voluntarily entered the longest standing war in US history and have had to bear the brunt of brutal combat on multiple fronts, in exceedingly different environments and asked to fight an enemy that look like the very civilians they deploy to protect. They have multiple deployments (I know guys with 10) each one, ranging anywhere from 6 months to over a year. They have lost friends, they have lost limbs and endured broken marriages (sometimes multiple) and seen the very worst of what human beings are capable of. This generation has watched their kids born on and grow up from behind the screen of a laptop and with every additional deployment, they leave behind a little bit of themselves. These young men and women have seen and done things that most people will never see or experience in a lifetime and yet they do it again and again and again because they believe in America (or at least the idea).

How do you thank someone for this? How can you say anything to even remotely summarize the gratitude for a generation lost to war? My answer is simple, be there for them. Listen to their stories, lend an ear if they need to talk and be their support system when they open their hearts to try and explain to some degree of what they are feeling. If you read this article and take nothing away from it other than this, please just take that last piece of advice. An open ear, a shoulder to cry on, an invite to a family dinner for someone adrift can save a life. If you really want to thank a Veteran…..be there for them this Veterans day because it will mean more to us then any free meal at some restaurant, or a hollow, “thank you for your service”……Help us choose life…..Be there for us.