Meaningful ways to thank a veteran for their service

This article is courtesy of the King County Veterans and Military Affinity Group

This Veterans Day, America will pause to honor those who have served in the military. Most Americans hold those who have served in high regard, yet sometimes are unsure how to properly thank a veteran without unintentionally saying the wrong thing, appearing intrusive, or somehow offending them.

While it is customary to offer a “thank you for your service” to veterans, you could instead say:

  • “Thank you for putting your life on hold to serve our country.” 
  • “Thank you for the sacrifices you made being away from your family.”
  • “Thank you for stepping up and choosing to serve when many others didn’t.”

But don’t stop there. Follow up by asking them if they have an interesting military story they might like to share. In fact, most veterans would be happy to share their military stories about coming of age, lifelong friends they’ve made, humorous situations, locations they’ve traveled to, cultures they’ve explored, and more. Here are examples of questions you could ask to begin the conversation:

  • What inspired you to join the military, and how did you choose your branch of service?
  • What was your job and what was the most rewarding part of doing it?
  • What was your training like?
  • What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you in the military?
  • Was the food as bad as we hear?
  • What are some of the things you remember about military life that you enjoyed?
  • If you saw multiple deployments, how did they differ from each other? What did you enjoy about them?
  • Did you go overseas? If so, what surprised you the most about serving abroad?

It is also important to know the types of questions to not ask. These questions include: Did you ever kill anyone? Did you see dead bodies? What was the worst thing you ever saw or that happened to you? Do you have PTSD? Did you see any action? How could you leave your family for so long? These sorts of questions often make those who served feel uncomfortable, and can be deemed as disrespectful.

So, on this Veterans Day and every day, the biggest sign of respect you can show to a veteran is to get to know them. Asking them about their military service and showing interest is the best way to express your gratitude for the many sacrifices they have made. For more information about those who choose to serve, please see this article from the Veterans Administration, 15 Things Veterans Would Like You to Know.