As the wife of an active-duty Navy pilot preparing for his third combat deployment, I have heard my husband thanked for his service many times, but at this point in the nation’s history that expression of gratitude has been overused. These days automatically telling a veteran “thank you for your service” can come off as obligatory, or worse, insincere. (Think “have a nice day.”)
Here are five more meaningful ways to thank those who have served the nation this Veterans Day:
1. HONOR THE FALLEN BY HELPING THOSE LEFT BEHIND
Veterans Day is not Memorial Day. Memorial Day, celebrated in May, honors those who have died serving their country. Veterans Day pays tribute to all veterans—living or dead—but is generally intended to honor living Americans who have served in the military. However, one of the best ways to thank a living veteran is to do something for the friends he or she has lost. The Tragedy Assistance Programs for Survivors is instrumental in providing aid and support to families in the aftermath of a military member’s death. They connect families with grief counselors, financial resources, seminars and retreats, peer mentors, and a community of other survivors. Nicole Van Dorn, whose husband J. Wesley Van Dorn died after a Navy helicopter crash last year, says the program was invaluable in helping her and her two young boys through a horrific time. “One woman called me twice a week just to let me know she was thinking about me. The fact that she continued to reach out even when I didn’t respond made me feel a little less alone.” TAPS paid for her oldest son to attend a camp where he could meet other children who had lost parents. “Sometimes people don’t know what to do,” she says. “But one way to help is to go through organizations like this one.”
2. HELP A VETERAN MAKE A SMOOTH TRANSITION
When soldiers are injured or disabled in service, they are thrust out of the lives they have known in an instant; most cannot return to the units they left behind. Sometimes the psychological consequences are harder to deal with than the physical ones. The Mission Continues, founded by former Navy Seal Eric Greitens, helps all veterans—not just the wounded—adjust to life at home by finding new missions of service. The organization harnesses veterans’ skills to connect them with volunteer opportunities in their communities.
3. DO SOMETHING FOR MILITARY FAMILIES IN YOUR COMMUNITY
When a soldier is deployed, sometimes for up to a year, daily life for spouses can be challenging. If you know the spouse of a veteran, through your community, church or social group, don’t ask how you can help. Instead, be proactive. When my husband was deployed, a neighbor took my garbage can to the street every week before I had the chance to do it. Offer to come by once a month to mow the lawn or fix what’s broken. Offer babysitting so a mother can run errands or go to a movie. Perform a random act of kindness, however small, for military families. “A woman used to send cards to my house that said, ‘I’m thinking of you,’ or ‘I’m proud of you,’ says Van Dorn of the months after her husband’s death. “She signed them ‘Secret Sister’ so I didn’t have to worry about thanking her.”
4. DONATE YOUR TIME, TALENT OR TREASURE
If you don’t know anyone in the military personally, there are still ways you can help. Send a book to a deployed soldier through Operation Paperback. Make a quilt for a wounded servicemember through Quilts of Valor. Take photographs of a soldier’s homecoming through Operation: Love Reunited. If you are a counselor, donate your services through Give an Hour. Bring snacks to your local airport’s USO. Take in a servicemember’s pet while he is deployed through Dogs on Deployment. Donate your frequent flier miles to soldiers on emergency leave through Fisher House’s Hero Miles program. Or knit a baby blanket for new military mothers through the Navy-Marine Corp Relief Society.
5. REMEMBER ALL VETERANS…
… Not just the newest ones. Andrew Lumish, a carpet cleaner from Florida, made the news recently when it was reported that he spends every Sunday cleaning veterans’ gravestones. This Veterans Day, bring flowers to a cemetery. Help a senior veteran visit his memorial in Washington DC by donating to the Honor Flight Network. Or volunteer at a shelter that helps homeless veterans, nearly half of whom served during Vietnam.
Victoria Kelly’s poetry collection, “When the Men Go Off to War,” was published this September by the Naval Institute Press, their first publication of original poetry. She holds degrees from Harvard University, Trinity College Dublin, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her debut novel, “Mrs. Houdini,” will be published in March by Simon Schuster/Atria Books. She is the spouse of a Navy fighter pilot and the mother of two young daughters.
See more about Victoria Kelly here.