Acknowledging someone's service and expressing gratitude seems like a no-brainer. But there's also a growing consensus to pay attention to how those words sound to singular service members. Sure, one’s military status is a category, but all service members are unique people with very distinct experiences.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Is It Okay to Say ‘Thank You for Your Service’ to a Veteran?
- How to Say ‘Thanks for Your Service’ to a Veteran You’re Close With
- How to Say ‘Thanks for Your Service’ to a Veteran Who’s a Stranger or Acquaintance
- How to Say ‘Thanks for Your Service’ in a Card or Text
- Ideas for Saying ‘Thanks for Your Service’ on Social Media
So, what do you say? How do you show someone you care? Before we get into that, let's look at the impact of certain words on service members.
Is It Okay to Say ‘Thank You for Your Service’ to a Veteran?
The answer gets a 50/50 response. On the one hand, the answer is yes. And on the other hand, the answer is no. And both sides come with some caveats. For those in the yes category, the reasoning is straightforward. When you say thank you for anything in life, your intent is to express gratitude without pretense. But, if it's just tired phrasing, then no one benefits from disingenuous remarks.
For those in the no category, they caution against this phrase unless you’re aware of how that specific veteran feels about their service. They believe the reasons are fourfold:
- You may trigger a response other than intended. For example, when someone has PTSD—background and experiences are hidden from plain sight.
- Not all service members received a welcome homecoming reception, which is not reflective of you personally but is nonetheless incredibly damaging.
- Some members of the military were not volunteers. That alone can hit a sore spot.
- Medical and mental health providers caution against the overused phrasing, ultimately encouraging you to choose your words more carefully.
So, unless you know a vet’s history, feelings about their service, and traumas, how would you know what to say? That’s where the following phrases and actions make for better options when trying to show gratitude. After all, benign aware of the impact of your words is essential.
How to Say ‘Thanks for Your Service’ to a Veteran You’re Close With
Letting family and good friends know they’re appreciated is very important, especially on military holidays. Even if they’ve passed, you can still celebrate their life and service by placing a flag on their grave or through the stories you share.
1. ‘I don’t know how you did it all those years, but I’m sure it’s nice to call a place home for once. I know you’ve missed out on a lot.’
If you don't emotionally express yourself well, just put yourself in their boots. Soldiers endure many temporary duty travels (TDY) and permanent change of station (PCS) moves, many times to not-so-welcoming parts of the world. Consider what that impact that has on them.
2. Place a commemorative grave marker flag for Memorial Day
Memorial Day is a time to celebrate fallen soldiers. If you’ve never placed a US flag at your family member’s grave before, you’ll want to check with the sexton of the cemetery regarding the rules. Commonly you can expect to be able to:
- Place the flag the weekend before the holiday
- Expect to follow proper US flag etiquette
- Remove the flag quickly after the holiday
After you've removed the flag from the grave, store it properly and respectfully.
3. ‘Dear Gina, I am so proud to call you my wife. I know there've been some deployments that tested our family but seeing the pride on your face right now makes me realize how much you've sacrificed for all of us. The kids and I have so much respect for you. Thank you for all you do. Your Loving Husband, Peter.’
While holidays are a great start, no singular day is better than the next to show love. It's tough for deployed spouses to miss out on so much, especially with kids to raise.
4. Host a grill out
What better way to thank a buddy for their service than to invite them to relax and enjoy a meal? Just feed them, give them a beer (or wine), and share your life with them.
5. Engrave a keepsake box
After they've retired, your loved one will want a place to store some of their military issue safely. Rather than keep everything in a dry-cleaning bag, consider a keepsake box for their medals, ribbons, patches, and all their important memories of their time in service.
6. Create a military shadow box
Military shadow boxes are relatively straightforward. Some of the things you can consider adding are:
- Ribbon board and medals
- Patches and rank pins
- A US Flag and flag of their branch of service
- Challenge coins
- Their cap or beret
- Name badge
- Dog tags
- Drill whistle
- Officer saber
How should you display it all? Consider repurposing their footlocker, creating a coffee table, or using a standard wall hanging. Ultimately, this is an opportunity to get creative in displaying your loved one’s items in a way that best honors their service.
How to Say ‘Thanks for Your Service’ to a Veteran Who’s a Stranger or Acquaintance
When considering ways to say thank you to a person that you don't know too well, try to give it some context. By that, let them know that there's some backstory to your words as opposed to the empty words that they hear.
7. ‘My family comes from a long military background, so I just wanted to say thank you for your sacrifice.’
Here’s a relatable way to express that you’re familiar with the military and that you’re also grateful for their service. If it sparks a conversation, that’s even better.
8. ‘Sorry to interrupt, but my brother served in the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict, too. Can I buy that beer for you?’
After you have discovered a connection, and you decide that buying a beer for someone is a great way to say thank you, offer to cover this round or the next.
9. Shake their hand. Look them in the eye.
For some generations, a firm handshake and good eye contact, followed by a thank you is the most respectful way to show gratitude. You'll probably want to ask if you can shake their hand first, though.
10. Give them a day off on Veteran’s Day
If you have a dependable employee who's also a veteran, consider giving them a paid day off to thank them this Veteran’s Day. After all, anyone who served 24/7, 365, and risked their life for their country deserves a few kickbacks, right?
11. Nod your head
If you recognize a veteran (one who's wearing a “hat” or poppy pin or anything else that stands out) or a current military member in uniform, but don't know what to say, make a noticeable gesture. Just make eye contact so they know—the recognition will speak volumes.
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How to Say ‘Thanks for Your Service’ in a Card or Text
When you are absent from the military member’s circle on federal holidays, you may want to send a card or text that voices your gratitude. Here are a few ways to consider doing so.
12. ‘You’re my hero.’
Has your brother or sister served their country? A short and sweet text will make their day assuming that they already know your thoughts and beliefs.
13. ‘I have my freedoms because of you.’
Here’s a message that’s a little bit more formal and would work for an aunt or uncle who has served in the military.
14. ‘Your service made it possible for all of us to be the country we are today.’
Even more formal, this message works well for any parent or grandparent on your list.
15. ‘Thinking of you today. What you gave was the ultimate show of friendship.’
Whether you’re an active duty service member or a buddy from back home, it’s nice to hear from people who believe in you.
16. ‘We miss you at home, but we know you’re giving the ultimate sacrifice.’
If your friend is deployed, any message from back home will give them comfort.
Ideas for Saying ‘Thanks for Your Service’ on Social Media
One great thing that comes out of social media is the opportunity to rally support for a cause. So, when holidays come around, take the time to use your platform for some good. Let people know both your support as well as your story.
17. ‘Happy Veteran’s Day, Dad!’
Although he may no longer be around, you can still honor your dad posthumously. But why stop there? You can send gratitude to every single member of your family who has served.
18. Post a picture of the US flag
If nothing else, a simple but powerful statement would be posting a picture of the US flag followed by as many #hashtags as you like.
19. Expressions of gratitude
As opposed to thanking someone particular, start a group conversation about how veterans have positively impacted people in your circle.
20. ‘To all the Sailors/Marines/Airmen/Soldiers/Coast Guardsmen, our thoughts and prayers are with you.’
As a military spouse, remembering all of the people in your partner’s wheelhouse speaks for your support of the whole boat locker (and the like).
While this descriptive sentiment was written for Sailors, you may want to elaborate on whichever branch they served in.
21. ‘On behalf [business] and our employees, we would like to thank all service members for the sacrifice you’ve made to the protection of our employees and the American way of life.’
As a business, you may want to recognize the contribution of the US service members who've sacrificed their lives to ensure that you have the future privileges of commerce and enterprise.
22. ‘Thank you.’
Sometimes the simplest words speak more volume than the needling of responses. So, rather than patronize or expect a response, just let the words speak for themself.
Keeping Your Heart in the Right Place
You decided to read up on this out of your own volition, which says that you're concerned about sounding trite for a solemn dedication. That said, taking it upon yourself to conduct a mental inventory about the impact of your words on others means that your heart is in the right place.
- "Should You Say "Thank You for Your Service"?" Psychology Today. November 09, 2017. www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-war-within/201711/should-you-say-thank-you-your-service.