When I Say “Thank You For Your Service”

imagesVeterans Day, like Christmas, has a powerful holiday-kernel buried deep within, that is worthy of our attention and observance . Unfortunately, like Christmas, our culture has mangled and obscured that kernel, sometimes beyond recognition.

The culture has turned Christmas into an orgy of shopping and greed. The culture has twisted Veterans Day into an orgy of xenophobic, nationalistic pride, that hardly honors the ultimate sacrifice and service of those who have given their all.

Even Veterans often say this; at least in private. In the past several years, I’ve had private conversations with Veterans who, in moments of honest self-reflection have said, “It makes me feel guilty when people thank me for my service.”

Given the horrors of war they have experienced first-hand, given the conflicts around the globe where we’ve sent our best and brightest without moral justification, they find it a struggle to accept the off-handed “thank you” from strangers on the street, juxtaposed with the long-term inner conflicts, demons and scars they carry within.

So, let me take a shot at it. Let me take a shot at explaining what I mean when I say to a Veteran, as I always do, “Thank you for your service.”

But in order to get to my “Thank you,” let me first say “I’m sorry.”

I am sorry that we have sent far too many of you into conflicts that did not have the moral justification required to wage a war. I am sorry for how deeply so many of you have also come to see this truth as well. I am sorry for the shoddy and pitiful ways we treat you when you return. I am sorry that so many of you come back with physical scars that make us wince, and psychological ones that make you do the same.

I am sorry that you return to find that while you were giving your all, we were watching “Honey, Boo Boo,” eating Cheetos, and wasting time of Facebook. I’m sorry that so often we don’t live lives worthy of your sacrifice. For all these things, and more, I am sorry.

However, I am also still grateful to you too. And for this, I say “Thank you.”

Thank you for the optimism and selflessness with which you originally signed up to serve. Whatever the result of your service —and even if you now question the ways you were led and supervised in that service— you signed up to defend your country with all the noblest of intentions. That unsullied desire to serve, that sense of duty, patriotism, and honor, can never be taken from you, and is still within you, no matter what battlefield horrors you have experienced, or experience still. It was, for most of you, a pure and honest desire to serve that initially drove you to military service, no matter what happened afterwards.

Whatever you’ve experienced on the battlefield, whatever scars you carry, you survived. I’m grateful you had that survival instinct, and that you are still with us today so I can thank you. That survival instinct, that initial desire to serve your fellow human being —whatever else has happened since— those things are still within you.

Whatever wounds you carry, you still also carry those things too. And they will help lead you forward, throughout your civilian life. Which was, of course, the whole point of service in the first place.

And so I say to you, “Thank you for your service.”

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

2 thoughts on “When I Say “Thank You For Your Service”

  1. Thank you, Eric. There is another kind of veteran, one like myself, who feels guilty when thanked for service. I am a retired vet, following 22 years in uniform, 14 of which were as a “traditional guardsman,” serving one weekend a month and two weeks active duty a year. I took the oath in 1976, when we were just finished in Vietnam and there were no conflicts into which reservists were being called. I was activated in 1993 for the Great Mississippi River Flood, and activated during Desert Storm stateside, doing clerical work for a unit that had been sent to Kuwait. I was never in harm’s way. Ever. To be thanked alongside my comrades who experienced the horrors of war, literally sacrificing life and limb, is difficult to accept. I have friends who try to lessen my guilt by reminding me that I would have gone if called, but that doesn’t help. I did my CPE at a Veteran’s Hospital, hoping to work through it, and while somewhat helpful, I still experience some guilt (and shame?) on days like today.
    Thank you for your words .

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