BY DUANE ALLEN VACHON, PH.D. Since America became a nation, 22,317,761 of its men and women have served at various times to protect our country. Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Almost half, 977,542, of those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan have been deployed more than once. There are 1,286 service members who are now amputees as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Every 65 minutes a veteran commits suicide, that’s 22 a day.
Thank you. Two words. Eight letters. We say it all the time – sometimes we don’t even think about it when we say it: I like your shoes. “Thank you.” How are you? “Doing well, thank you.” Can I get that door for you? “Thank you.” Within seconds we have moved away from that moment and have forgotten what we said and to whom we said it.
So where is the power, the emotion in “thank you?” When do two words – eight letters – earn their stripes as words of gratitude? Words of appreciation? Words of thankfulness?
It happens when we put action behind the words. It happens when we look into someone’s eyes and speak from our heart. It happens when we remember what we said and to whom we said it. It happens when we say it because we mean it and not because it’s an auto response. It happens when we don’t plan for it and we aren’t prepared for it but we are stirred to say it. It happens when we let our heart speak.
I was in Washington D.C. a couple of years ago and visited the Vietnam Memorial. Walking along the Vietnam Memorial, I passed a mother sobbing while her young daughter clinched her hand, a father scratching pencil across paper to capture his son’s name from the wall, a vet in a wheelchair who was handing a tissue to a tearful older man, an older couple desperately searching for the name they wished was not on that wall. There were countless teddy bears, crosses, flags, and candles covering the ground…and I was overwhelmed.
I turned away and looked across the reflecting pool. But the sounds continued; the soft crying, sniffling, a deep breath, a child’s voice, a tissue being pulled from a box, gravel crunching as people moved around in search and then, “Here it is. Here he is. He’s here. It’s here. I found it.”
My eyes burned, I could feel my heart ache, my throat swelled and my head filled with two simple words, eight letters…and they seemed inadequate. But I had nothing else. And so I repeated these words silently and as I started to walk away, I quietly whispered them. I had to let them out – I had to pass them to the air to swirl around the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, sons and daughters who were standing at the wall grieving alone. I have never meant two words more than I did that day, at that time, in that place.
And so, the emotion is met with action. Gratitude collides with thankfulness and we move into a place of thanks – giving.
It is believed we lost our last World War I American veteran in 2011. May they all rest in peace and know that they left behind a grateful nation. May they all know the sound of those two words and feel the passion of the voice who spoke them.
Since World War I, the United States of America’s Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard have fought in many battles this a list of some of them:
• World War II
• Korean War
• Vietnam War
• Bay of Pigs
• Invasion of Panama
• The Persian Gulf
• Intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina
• Invasion of Afghanistan, and the
• Invasion of Iraq
We open our arms and our hearts and welcome them all home. They did not all come home alive, they did not all come home whole, many are not yet home, and we continue to send many back into harm’s way. The enormity of their sacrifice is beyond compare. So how do we dare to believe two words, eight letters are enough?
John F. Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
So, it isn’t enough to say it – we need to be it. Grateful. Thankful. Appreciative. The greatest prayer you can say is “Thank You.” Two words. Eight letters. But weighted with love, gratitude, humility and understanding.
Each day that passes we move further away from these wars. The heroes pass, time pushes in new headlines, life gets in the way of the past, and we move through our own days and months and years.
Ceremonies are important but our gratitude has to be more than once a year. We honor these men and women most by living well.
To honor our national promise to our veterans, we must continue to improve services for our men and women in uniform today and provide long overdue benefits for the veterans and military retirees who have already served.
While we can never truly repay the debt we owe our heroes, the least we should do for our brave veterans is to ensure that the government takes a proactive approach to delivering the services and benefits they have earned, so they can access the care they need and so richly deserve
In closing I would like to share this passage from President Ronald Reagan from a speech he gave at the Veterans Day Ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial November 11, 1988 – I took the liberty of adding the last two words…
For too long a time, they stood in a chill wind, as if on a winter night’s watch. And in that night, their deeds spoke to us, but we knew them not. And their voices called to us, but we heard them not. Yet in this land that God has blessed, the dawn always at last follows the dark, and now morning has come. The night is over. We see these men and know them once again — and know how much we owe them, how much they have given us, and how much we can never fully repay. And not just as individuals but as a nation, we say we love you and thank you.