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When I was a child, Veterans Day in the United States meant we had a day off from school, a long weekend. In college that meant I could either head home for a visit or leave town with friends for some sort of interesting adventure. I never gave much thought to the investment that had been made that allowed me those freedoms. 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed a tendency for people to say, “thank you for your service” when encountering individuals (usually in uniform) that have served/are serving in the armed forces. Frequently, the person being thanked says something along the lines of “thank you” back and each party goes about their business. A seemingly simple interaction, yet…  

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the United States alone, as of 2021, there were 16.5 million veterans, of which 1.7 million identified as female. The World Veterans Federation estimates there are some 60 million veterans around the globe (and that is only those that are/were active military, it doesn’t include their spouses/significant others, children, and their extended families who have made or continue to make sacrifices while their loved-one is deployed). Overall, that’s a lot of people to thank.   

And lest we consider Veterans Day itself purely an American holiday, it’s recognized by a number of countries around the globe, on various days of the year. Originating as “Armistice Day” on November 11, 1919, it marked the first anniversary of the end of World War I. In 1926 the U.S. Congress passed a resolution for an annual observance, and beginning in 1938, November 11 became a national holiday. Unlike Memorial Day, an observance to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, Veterans Day pays tribute to all veterans—living or dead—but especially gives thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peacetime. 

What’s the best way to thank a veteran on Veterans Day or otherwise?  According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), thanking veterans isn’t always as simple as saying “thank you.”  For one who has only recently returned from being deployed, they may not be familiar with the simple “thank you” and not know how to respond in return.  Others may feel awkward about being recognized for “just doing their job.”   

If you encounter a veteran in your neighborhood, workplace, etc., rather than a simple “thank you for your service,” you might consider respectfully engaging them in a conversation about that service and appreciating them by asking something along the lines of:  

  • What did you do in the military? 
  • How long did you serve? 
  • What was your favorite moment in all your time in the service? 
  • Did anyone else in your family serve? 
  • Why did you choose the service branch that you did? 

If you’d like to appreciate the veterans in your local community more actively, the VA suggests the following

  • Volunteer at an event focused on helping Veterans 
  • If you know a Veteran, write a simple postcard or e-card that recognizes them 
  • Make donations to non-profit Veterans organizations 
  • Visit a Veteran at your local hospital on a holiday or weekend 
  • Get to know that Veteran by inviting them to a fun activity or a run 

But if you’ll pardon me, I need to go meet with our children and plan what we’re doing in our house on November 11. We have someone very important to appreciate for his service. 

Disclaimer: This piece was written by Kristina Brunelle (Head of Global Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging) to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.