Musings: Here’s how to say ‘thank you’ 

There was an image on Facebook, another meme about veterans and how heroic, wonderful, sad, sorrowful and messed up we all are.  Like many other memes, it had me flash back and brought to mind how much I dislike the popular phrase, “Thank you for your service.”

I’m one of the luckiest people going, at least in one respect: During ‘Nam, I spent 16 months in Southeast Asia, but I was at U-Tapao Air Base in Thailand, where we only got hit twice.

In the mid-1980s, I realized I had a case of survival guilt and put a display cap together to help me deal with those feelings. On a camouflaged baseball cap, I sewed on my chevrons and pinned campaign ribbons on each side of the stripes. I wore that cap almost daily for years.

I was wearing the cap the day I walked into the lobby of the Chilton Co. in Radnor. At the elevator was a guy who saw the chevrons and ribbons, looked down at the floor, back up to the cap, and then looked directly at me.

“Air Force, huh?” he said. “What did you do?”

“I was humping B-52s out of U-Tapao,” I said.

He looked down again, then at me and said, “I was in the Marines. I was at Khe San. I’d be dead without the B-52s.”

Later that night, I cried over the exchange. He never used the words “thank you,” but his way of acknowledging what I, and thousands of others did, had value, personal value, to him and his statement was much more powerful than those two words.

That former marine, and all the marines and soldiers on the ground in Vietnam, were why we did what we did. But we also knew that while we were killing enemy forces to save fellow Americans, we were also killing innocent men, women and children.

A few people in the Chadds Ford area, after learning of my military stint, have used the “thank you for your service” line and can’t understand why I tend to cringe and wince when I hear those words.

More than 58,000 of my peers never made it home alive from ‘Nam and I can still get weepy over their loss. Men and women are coming home today from Afghanistan and Iraq and who knows where else with the same problems as the Vietnam vets have. Stop it. No more.

If you really want to thank me, or any other former or current member of the military, you can do so by demanding that our federal government stop sending young men and women off to kill and die in unconstitutional wars, wars that have nothing to do with the preservation of our liberties.

Put an end to wars of empire, even if they’re called “a war on terrorism.” That’s dishonest and disingenuous at best. (I would rather use another earthier expression, but I’ve been asked not to.) You can’t wage a war on a tactic.

I remember watching President George W. Bush make the speech in which he said the country would wage war against terror. I jumped with revulsion, knowing that such a call would put us into a war without end.

We’d be far better off, and more prosperous, if we had a foreign policy that didn’t meddle in the affairs of other countries, a foreign policy that doesn’t make enemies.

Politicians and governments need enemies. As Randolph Bourne said in 1918, “War is the health of the state.” But, we the people don’t need enemies or wars. Tell the politicians where to go with that imperial, world-bullying and self-serving attitude. That’s the thanks I really want. Do that, and I’ll thank you.

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.



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