We were entertaining one of our new employees from our Tennessee factory and to give him a true Southern California experience we took him to In-N-Out. I paid for the order and turned to see a man in a classic 1960s green fatigue coat with the unmistakable yellow service ribbon with three stripes. He looked worn almost haunted.
“Are you a Vietnam vet?” I asked.
“I am” he answered with a look that wondered where I was going with the inquiry. The mix of pride and suspicion with which he answered the question struck me. But then, I grew up during that war. I had friends in that war that I sat with upon their return and heard about their struggles, the same mix of pride and suspicion. I know these two emotions aren’t just rooted in the political chaos that surrounded the Vietnam war, but in the very nature of war and combat itself. I saw combat change friends.
“Thank you, for your service,” I said holding his gaze.
Suspicion seemed to melt into gratitude – almost relief. There was no commentary on what I think about war and its morality. There was no judgment about his role. There was my simple recognition that while I have no real idea of what any veteran has endured in combat (the draft ended right after I registered). I do have an appreciation for any man or woman who will stand in the gap to defend the defenseless and insist upon justice. There is a place to debate the morality of war – it is not in the face of those who have endured its worse.
“You are welcome,” he said as he sat a little straighter.
To all veterans I say, thank you, for your service. Thank you, for standing up for the ideals of liberty, justice for all and the idea that all men (and women) are created equal. Thank you, for enduring the wounds both physical and emotional. Thank you, for serving with discipline in the midst of unbridled cruelty. Thank you, for delivering and protecting the country that has provided me with the opportunities I enjoy – opportunities your service encourages me to use to serve others as you have done so courageously.