‘Thank you for your service’ least we can say to veterans

By: 

Georgia Stapleton, Special to the Leader

This is the week we celebrate Veterans Day. We honor our veterans and often say, “Thank you for your service.” Have we said it? Do we know why?

Recently, a movie came out with that very title. It is based on a true story of Staff Sgt. Adam Schumann from North Dakota, who was deployed to Iraq three times, the last in 2007. After Schumann’s service, his battle was back in the United States with post-traumatic stress disorder.

When Schumann was newly interviewed, he referred to the phrase “Thank you for your service” without criticism but posed the question of what the phrase means. This has had my mind wandering. What does the phrase mean, and what does that mean for those of us who have not served?

Here are some statistics provided by several resources — The Watson Institute, Brown University and Wikipedia’s United States military casualties of war — of which citizens might not be aware.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, 1.9 million service members have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. More than half of these have been deployed numerous times, amounting to a total of 3 million tours of duty there. By comparison, 2.7 million soldiers served in Vietnam.

The casualties reported are, Iraq and Afghanistan, 6,853 killed, 50,897 wounded; Vietnam War, 58,148 killed, 304,000 wounded; Korean War, 36,516 killed, 92,134 wounded; World War II, 405,399 killed, 670,846 wounded.

In addition, there are other issues we, as citizens, can consider on this Veterans Day. According to the 2015 Watson Report, 970,000 veteran disability claims have been registered with the United States Veterans Administration. Suicide rates run from 20 to 22 soldiers daily. Thirty-one percent of Vietnam veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War veterans and 11 percent of Afghanistan veterans suffer from PTSD.

Vietnam veterans composed 9.7 percent of their generation, and 75,000 were severely disabled. Sixty-one percent were 21 years old and younger.

The Brown University report states that up to 80 percent of veterans surveyed between 2014 and 2016 left the military without a job lined up. A great percentage have sought service for community reintegration problems to help them transition and look for work.

These are just some of the statistics we can consider when thinking about thanking our servicemen and women.

Can we understand what it means to be a veteran, whether serving in war or behind the scenes in preparation to protect and support fellow soldiers and defend our country? Could we possibly understand what it means to, usually at a young age, leave our family, our community, our place in the world, to go to a life totally different, potentially far away, with strangers? How about being deployed to a land on the other side of the globe, perhaps to be maimed physically or psychologically?

Can we imagine the impact to be embedded in a culture so different and to maybe frequently witness human suffering? What about picturing ourselves in a faraway hospital, perhaps without a limb or more, or newly deaf or blind? Worst, how can we begin to wonder what our loved ones would indeed do if our lifeless bodies would be delivered to our home community, in a coffin covered with a flag?

Recently, Sen. John McCain has spoken about veterans’ issues. As we probably know, McCain served as a Navy pilot and was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for six years, often tortured. He has gone on to serve for decades in Congress, both in the House and Senate. He made a point of stressing many of our soldiers have come from poverty and offer their lives to honorably serve our country in great numbers. Look at McCain — still serving our country even at 81 with newly diagnosed cancer.

As a nurse, I have worked with other nurses, doctors and social workers who have devoted their careers to the Veterans Administration. They see soldiers and know their concerns every single day. The VA employees care, and they are to be commended. We are grateful. They, too, are not to be forgotten.

To take the phrase “Thank you for your service” a bit further, we might want to re-examine what we personally mean when we say, think or write it. Only half of 1 percent of the United States population has served as a soldier — a tiny, minuscule proportion. These numbers indicate many of us have no idea what it means to be a veteran. How could we?

Perhaps we need to try harder to understand all the things that change veterans lives forever. They have given of themselves to protect and defend us, not only for the day but for the long haul, for generation after generation, way beyond their own personal lifespans.

Let us open our eyes and hearts to give the extra mile when we say, “Thank you for your service,” and perhaps extend the conversation. We know we mean so much more in our hearts and minds. Let the words really count.

Perhaps witnessing the honor and respect our Menominee friends give to their veterans is worth great applause. It is genuine. Maybe we could attend the Menominee veterans pow wows and honor other veteran events that are included in Menominee tradition and everyday lives.

Perhaps we could attend more events in all communities and find ways to honor our family members and neighbors who have served.

I don’t remember telling my dad or my father-in-law, “Thank you for your service,” or even my husband — all of whom served as veterans. How remiss!

Today, though, we can all say, veterans, we not only thank you for your service, we thank you for your lives, for everything you have stood for and everything you will always stand for. Thank you for your endurance. Hopefully, our words will not be a quick five-word phrase but a lasting appreciation, gratitude and respect for who you are, what you’ve done, who you’ve been and what you will always be — a veteran. We sincerely honor your service, not just on Veterans Day but every single day.

Georgia Stapleton is a retired nurse living in Shawano.