Photo Credit: Markus Leiminger/Getty Images
Don’t be afraid of interfering or putting someone on the spot, even if it appears that their experience ended poorly, like an obvious injury, for example. “These guys talk about wanting to go back, to be a part of it in some way,” says Becky Melvin, manager of public relations for Wounded Warrior Project. “So to say that ‘thank you,’ give them that handshake, that pat on the back -- they like that.”
Veterans need that gratitude too, says Army National Guard Sgt. Neil Gussman of Philadelphia. He first enlisted in the Army in the early 1970s, and then re-upped in 2007 and served in Iraq. The thank-yous he hears regularly now are in stark contrast to what it was like to be a soldier during the Vietnam era, when onlookers yelled “baby killer” as he walked by. “Now if I walk through a Starbucks in uniform, someone will thank me for my service,” Gussman says. “I wish the guys I served with during Vietnam could come back in the Army for one day, put the uniform on and walk through an airport. It’s way better now.” So consider extending thanks to veterans you know too, whether they served in World War II or the first Gulf War.
If you’re uncomfortable approaching a stranger, consider these other ways you can show your gratitude:
- Write a thank-you letter to someone currently deployed. Operation Gratitude is in urgent need of personal letters from civilians to deployed troops and wounded warriors.
- Volunteer at a local Veteran’s Administration hospital.
- Know someone who’s caring for a wounded veteran? Offer to mow the lawn, make a dinner or stop by for a movie so the caregiver can have some time to him or herself.
- Join the Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride and help raise money while biking alongside veterans who are overcoming their injuries. Or make a donation to the Veterans of Foreign Wars or The American Legion.
However you choose to show your thanks, you can be sure it will be meaningful to the person who receives it.
“Right after I finished boot camp, someone walked up to me and shook my hand,” says Manbahal. “Things like that make you feel really proud to serve your country.”