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John Samuel Tieman: Thank you for your service

At the gym the other day, a few of us old veterans were talking among ourselves. The subject drifted to how tired we are of that “Thank you for your service” thing. One guy said we should stop wearing veteran’s caps and t-shirts and such. But we wear those geeky veterans’ caps to meet other veterans, or to elicit real conversations that begin with stuff like, “Oh, I had a brother in the Air Cav at An Khe …”. And, well, OK, to show off. But if all we get is a “Thank you for your service,” it’s so awkward it’s not worth it.

            Mind you, not all veterans feel negatively about the thanks. Many feel affirmed. But most have profoundly mixed feelings. I did a completely unscientific internet survey of veterans. I asked, simply, how they felt when folks thanked them. Over 600 vets responded. About a third said the “Thank you for your service” was nice. And about two-thirds ran the range from mixed feelings to the negative to, in a few cases, the outright contemptuous. Generally mixed feelings to mildly negative. The word “awkward” came up a lot.

            It’s hard to be completely negative when folks say something nice. I don’t doubt the surface intention of the “Thank you”. My biggest complaint is that, like all cliches, it lacks reflection. It’s not really about dialogue. You can tell that because it’s often so awkward. 

            Human interaction is not singularly about me, nor is it just about you. It’s about what is between us. In the we-ness of this exchange, what tension is in the person, the one doing the thanking, that he or she feels will be discharged by this interaction? In other words, what is it about my “Vietnam Veteran” cap that elicits this interaction? My guess is that the “Thank you” is a psychological defense against a variety of unwanted feelings. 

            All I can really say is how I feel, and what other veterans tell me they feel. And what we feel is that the interaction is stilted, cliched. The results are predictable. The veteran is often relatively unresponsive. What’s the veteran supposed to say? “You’re welcome.” “You should write a thank you to my draft board.” Or “Well, thank you for dodging the draft — it made it so much easier for me to serve.” 

            I often wonder what would happen if I got all effusively grateful? “Oh, your thanks means so much to me. The last ‘Thank you for your service’ I got was from a whore in Nha Trang. What do you say we get a beer, and I’ll tell you about this grunt I knew who collected ears. You want to hear what it’s like to not have a bath for six months?”

            Some years ago, I was in an airport. A soldier sat across from me. His mother and father had just left in tears. He was on his way to Iraq. As he sits there awaiting his imminent departure, he just stares at this hands. This older guy comes up to the soldier and begins the whole “Thank you for your service.” The kid never looks up from his hands.

            Instead of “Thank you for your service,” perhaps folks should say, “I’m so sorry we did this to you.”

            Many veterans are tired of purely symbolic gestures. There is no patriotism without sacrifice. Duty without cost and effort, there is no such thing. You want to thank a veteran? Go to a town hall meeting. Volunteer. Vote. Read a newspaper. Study history. Study Spanish. Don’t get me wrong. Fly the flag – I do. Symbolism is important. But don’t think gestures are all there is to patriotism and duty.

            By the way, the last thing I would have wanted when I got home was a thank you parade. I’d been in plenty of parades. In 1970, I would have regarded it as an irritation. Another thing — no one ever disrespected me for my service. With the exception of the community college, I went to upper class universities. My experience was more one of isolation, meaning I was the only Vietnam veteran I knew.

            Oh, and a couple of other things. I got my thanks. I got the G. I. Bill. From that, I got a house, an education and a career. I also got V. A. medical care, meaning, if I ever need it, state medical care is free for the rest of my life. You’re welcome.


Copyright 2018 John Samuel Tieman

29 comments on “John Samuel Tieman: Thank you for your service

  1. Gary Albert
    November 11, 2020

    I’m always smile when someone takes the time to say.. thank you for your service. They didn’t have to stop, and that very quick, mention of my service, never makes me angry, rather,
    It shows that time, and reflection, can, and has changed the minds of people, who at one time, wouldn’t have taken the time of day to acknowledge me. That’s okay. I know who I am, and I know who the many friends I had, and those I still have. Going to a bitter end is not so true Mark of who you only were, or who you are today.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Matt Gibson
    June 20, 2020

    I didn’t advertise my Vietnam service for many years not until Gulf, Iraq, Afganastan vets started getting some acclaim. I wear some Vietnam military apparel, reason being I don’t want our country to forget the 58,000 plus fellow service people who paid the ultimate price for our country. Never complaining that the reason may have been misguided. I don’t need their thanks I just don’t want them to forget the sacrifice of those who lost their lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Daniel Duty
    June 7, 2020

    Absolutely hit the nail on the head! Would like to share this with my family first, then the rest of the world, it’s about time someone got this shit said, Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Albert De Stefanis
    March 29, 2020

    My exact feeling about wearing a veterans hat.I refuse to wear it.I think those who wear it(not all)want to hear that “Thank you” I personally could care less.I did my duty to this country,The people that I care the most about know what I did,That’s enough Thanks for one person.”Me”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      March 29, 2020

      Thanks, Albert!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Emmitt Wayne Robinson
      October 21, 2020

      Some (real and bogus Vn Vets) wear it in anticipation of a free meal, etc. My kids asks me why I won’t wear Vn Vet apparel. Simple-I am proud and glad but it is not the most important or significant thing I have done in my life. I have a wife of 48 years/I have five wonderful children/I have 13 grandchildren/I have two great-grandchildren. I served in the Army for 28 years and six months and had the pleasure and honor of working with great Americans. I went from a cotton mill hill kid to an educated adult that lives a comfortable life. Most importantly, I get more pleasure from giving than I do receiving. I am able to pick up the tab in restaurants and I opt to do such for elderly couples or a sole elderly person dining alone, with instructions that I not be identified as the person that picked up the tab (elderly people can’t be phony and I am willing to bet most vets would prefer giving to the elderly than receiving. As for the “Thank you for your service.” I respond with thank you for being an American and keep moving.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Paul Busse
    March 24, 2020

    Answer to “thank you for your service” is “thank you for your support.” (Not original to me.)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. John Gordon
    March 23, 2020

    John, thank you for your thoughts, a good read.
    The issue of “Thanks for your Service”, when it was becoming popularized.., I like so many of my brothers.., turned to my rear thinking the cashier was speaking to the person behind me…
    I (as a recent retired educator) was at a loss for words…
    Later, finding out that the “Thanks” was part of a formality when showing my military ID for a military discount at my local lumber yard… I thanked the sales person, and didn’t (and don’t) stress the point.
    On Home Coming, we all have our stories… Some humorous, some not…, For me, my ETS’ing out of VietNam, the Army, and having a ticket on the first flight out of SeaTac, Washington, after DWCooper hijacked the first Commercial passenger aircraft from the same Airport began my homecoming odyssey.
    The protesters slept in that day, as I was being frisked while wearing my Class A’s… For what, I know not why…
    John, 1/502nd., Inf. 101st.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      March 23, 2020

      Thanks, John!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Terry Barnaby
        October 22, 2020

        This is a very well written piece, I have wrestled with my personal
        demons since my return from my tour in VN, 1970-71.

        To begin with I did not agree with the war or the way it was handled, but when and if the time came I was determined to do the best that I could and with honor. My family have served and died in nearly every war or conflict since the beginning of this great country so, what else could I do?

        As luck would have it all the training that I received would be 11B-40, which you know is the Infantry. My assigned duty was 101st Abn Div, in I corp, VN and then straight to the Ashau Valley. I was wounded, patched up by some very talented men and women and was able to finish my tour in the Ashau.

        The trip home was very similar to lots of other troops but I wanted to go home so badly that I was willing to endure or ignore most of it. Which was my way to handle the issues and opinions people had of my time in the service. Also my response to questions that either asked what I did or anything related to my time in service, it was just simpler and less painful.

        It has been easier in the last few years but still distasteful so I try to avoid it still by a quick you’re welcome. Until a friend with great faith in a higher power suggested that I simply say, “You were worth it”! It gives them the opportunity for reflection on the part that they played during that time and if you are too young to remember, it gives them an opportunity to appreciate our reasons………….

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Gene Stewart
    March 23, 2020

    John, I like the “thank you for your service”. At least some people are grateful and not spitting on you. I wear my hat because I am proud of being a Marine and I say ” Thank you for your service” to many of the Korean, WWII Vets because they need it also. I had 2 brothers in Korea one brother in Army stationed in Hawaii and I went to Vietnam as a US Marine. I was wounded and lost many friends over there, but I still served 13 months 8 days there and I hated ever minute of the wet, hot, cold and being shot at and killing people in that non-grateful country. 51 years later, I still have problems with it. I went on the Honor Flight in 2017 and was treated the best I have ever been treated for serving over there. Thank you and I still have a strong bond with my fellow service brothers.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dallas
    March 22, 2020

    Share many of your feelings. At the UW Madison in 65-68 and Michigan State U 64-65 was often the only Viet vet in the building. Mostly the younger students were curious, even the anti war folks, some of whom were in my living coop. And I didn’t expect nor need thanks. I was RA, volunteered for VN and did my job as an aircraft electrician as best I could. About the time I was stoney broke, the GI bill came through. I worked hard, had leadership
    Scholarships and with the GI bill was able to buy a new Opel Kadet graduation spring. No thanks needed.
    Dallas Doughty

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Michael Olson
    March 18, 2020

    Thanks or this piece.

    I get his more often now. My driver’s license adds the word “VETERAN” appropriately in bold red letters. WTF is the response?

    You’re welcome?
    Killing isn’t fun?
    I’m actually a draft dodger?
    Thanks, I dodged the Army by volunteering for the USAF?
    Thanks for all the healthcare?
    The healthcare is free but was very costly?
    War scars do fade buy they still last forever?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. dodadagohuhsgi
    January 18, 2020

    “Thank you for your service.” I learned later in life to always be both a gracious giver–AND a gracious receiver. As a decorated Vietnam War veteran when people see my cap and say these words my response is usually “thank YOU. We waited such a long time to hear those words.” And indeed we did–until 1991, to be exact–the beginning of the Persian Gulf War. By then the Wall had been built, and it was generally understood that we had no knowledge of our supposed superiors’ real strategy. I still wear that cap regularly. Perhaps the world can never really thank us enough.–Tom Reilly

    Liked by 1 person

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    January 3, 2020

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  12. Bob Bertram
    November 13, 2019

    When a vet returns there are things he/she can say to help those around them understand the conflict the vet experienced. That dialog is spread among the public in many unrecorded ways. The Vietnam vet was censored even shunned, the public for the most part, never got to digest what had happen. This silence widened the rift between those who served and those who didn’t. I grew up with uncles and aunts who served during WWII. I watched and re-watched hours of WWII and Korean war movies and documentaries. From the 60’s to 2001 the Vietnam dialog was often exploitive rather than communicative. So in reflection, maybe the “thanks” that makes many of us uncomfortable was the first step taken to break down the silence between us and the public. -Another way to put this is, the public has a need for closure too.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Greg Dillahunty
    November 12, 2019

    I remember a in Los Angeles airport walking through the terminal in dress greens, a lady passing in the opposite direction said to me while looking at me as she passed “baby killer!”.
    Weird because it did not really bother me like you might think. I was more than aware that some people in those days had different political and personal views even as young as I was.
    Later in life I realized she was being disrespectful to me and to everyone who was serving in the military because it sure was not about me since she did not know me personally.
    Compared to disrespect for the military I will take “thank you for your service” as a way of saying “I respect those who serve and sacrifice for us by serving in the armed forces “. I believe that’s what people are trying to communicate even if it is awkward.
    Better than ” baby killer” for sure.
    Heck sometimes I think someone needs to say something in acknowledgment to the military families too. Who really shows respect to a military family as a whole for their seperation and sacrifice living separately from the service member of the family who maybe deployed?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Neil Newcomb
    November 12, 2019

    Yup. There it is, brother. Sometimes I feel like a duffle bag of ambivalence about the whole veteran thing…I’m still leery…don’t wear my “colors” or my cap every day, as some do. That 60s scorn of my contemporary countrymen still stings. But I’m pushing 73 and I don’t have enough time left for retribution.
    But I have noticed something different in the past fifteen or so years: when I do identify myself as a Vietnam Vet, there are people that seem to almost turn and run away…their face and mannerisms display a distinct discomfort at the prospect of proximity. It is hard to describe and I’ve watched it happen to other guys. I get sense that they can’t deal with the fact that we’re a bunch of old guys who’ve finally attained some standing and respect.
    But maybe it’s just me.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. allisonfine
    November 11, 2019

    This is so excellent and I can really totally understand you here. I am not one who thanks veterans because I have been aware of the ambiguity of the entire enterprise since I was 18 in 1967. The world is always at war and our country is sending young men and now women to fight to things they did not create and cannot solve. The cost is enormous. I cannot thank a Veteran but I can express my fervent wish that the human species evolves past this. Thanks for this essay however because it is so clear and honest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Sain
      November 12, 2019

      Sorry that “Thank you for your service” affects you in a negative way. I personally appreciate the gesture, I was a Navy Corpsman with the Marines and saw a lot of blood shed and death , plus when I came back to US in Calif., I was greeted by protesters, calling names , throwing trash and calling us baby killers . I left the military, but later rejoined and retired. I feel a strong Brother hood towards military personnel and all that our military does to protect our freedom and I hope the civilians will continue to Thank us for our service. You should go on an Honor Flight to appreciate the kindness shown towards War Veterans.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Philip F. Clark
    November 11, 2019

    John, thank you so much for this wonderful essay in tribute to all who serve us.

    Liked by 1 person

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