It is fairly common these days for military veterans to hear from grateful citizens, “Thank you for your service.” Indeed, whenever I see someone with a military T-shirt or baseball cap designating them as a veteran, I express the same sentiment. I don’t remember the first time it was said to me, but I do remember that I was humbled and thankful.
My service occurred during the war in Vietnam. It was much more common in those days for a member of the military to be ignored, insulted, or denigrated than it was for them to be thanked. I don’t know exactly when it turned around but I suspect it was during the first Gulf War when the children of the Vietnam-era veterans went to war.
I deeply appreciate being thanked for my service, especially when that sentiment comes from teenagers or children. But, honestly, from my point of view, I received much more than I gave. I realize that my sacrifice, such as it was, cannot compare to the sacrifice of those men and women who were killed, wounded, maimed, or suffer from PTSD. It cannot compare to the ordeal of the veterans of World War II who may have spent the better part of four years in combat or to the frozen and frigid months experienced in Korea. No, I received more than I gave.
Among those benefits which I received as a result of my military service are:
• The proudest day of my life upon graduating from recruit training at Parris Island, South Carolina.
• The hospital bill for my oldest son, born while I was on active duty, paid by the government.
• The experiences of working with men and women from all over the country, from the farmlands of Alabama and Mississippi to the projects of Newark and New York City.
• The process of being changed from an unfocused, undisciplined, college drop-out to a person who was able to go back home and graduate college “with honors,” and then go to graduate school — twice.
• Being able to go to college on the G.I. Bill as a married man with a wife and two kids.
• Getting a leg up by having a few veterans’ points added to my civil service test to go to work for the state of Tennessee.
• Buying my first home — again, courtesy of the G.I. Bill.
Becoming a permanent part of the global fraternity of those men and women who proudly claim the title of “Veteran.”
My undying and undiminished pride of being, once and forever, a United States Marine and continuing that association as a member of the Marine Corps League.
So, my own sentiment to the country and to the military is this: Thank you for the opportunity to be of service to this great country. Thank you for changing and transforming my life. Thank you for allowing me to be part of a great warrior tradition. And to my fellow veterans: Thank you for your service. It is an honor to be counted among your number.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]