There are many opinions about proper ways to thank veterans and service members for their service. Some believe civilians will never fully understand the military culture and thus find the question of how to thank a veteran a tough one.
Regardless of civilian’s understanding of military experiences, they can still appreciate the sacrifice made by those who raised their hand for service. Thus, there are many insights on how to say ‘thank you’ to a veteran, or specifically how to thank a veteran for their service to our country.
First and foremost, remember to be civil and polite. When you think about how to thank a veteran, consider the vast multitude of experiences they could have faced. You are thanking them for understanding the risk and still deciding to serve in the armed forces. Most veterans will appreciate a polite comment from a stranger and acknowledgement of their sacrifice.
Second, consider learning more about military culture beforehand. If you wonder how to thank a veteran for their service, you may also wonder ‘what does military service even mean?’. Having a better understanding of military life – the many sacrifices service members and their families face – you can better appreciate and acknowledge their efforts. Sincerity is closely tied with a deep understanding of a subject in its entirety.
Third, the timing of your sentiment matters. How to thank a veteran on Veterans Day is much different than how to thank a veteran on Memorial Day, simply because of the nature of these holidays. Veterans Day celebrates all veterans who served in the armed forces so “thank you for your service” or something similar is appropriate. However, Memorial Day commemorates those who lost their lives in military service. Although you can still acknowledge the sacrifices of veterans on this day, respect the intention of the holiday and be mindful of the differences.
Fourth, the era in which the veteran served is an important factor in their own perception of their military service. For example, there was much greater support and public appreciation for the armed forces during Operation Desert Storm than there ever was during Vietnam. Thus, how to say thank you to a Vietnam veteran is slightly different. You must gauge the individual’s perception of their military service. Looking a Vietnam Veteran in the eye, saying ‘thank you for your service and sacrifice’, and shaking their hand is a respectful and neutral way to acknowledge their time in uniform.
Lastly, remember there are a wide range of jobs, experiences, and outcomes for veterans and their families. It is tough to understand the complexity of military duty but acknowledging the sacrifice from these men and women is a great start. It may seem obvious, but when searching on how to thank a veteran, just smile and say ‘thank you for your service’ or ‘thank you for your willingness to serve our country.’