Thank You
Off The Wall, Nov 12, 2010

Standing, waiting for my luggage to arrive at one of our country’s terminals, I happened to catch a glimpse of a soldier coming my way. He was walking straight toward me, all by himself. Many thoughts went through my mind. Should I just watch him go by, as all the other people are doing? Perhaps I should just let him walk on past me without so much as a greeting? Or maybe approach him and let him know my thoughts.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what I was thinking. Here was a man, possibly returning from overseas, who was one of many who fought for our country’s freedoms. Not only did he bear arms and walk the streets of a foreign land, but actually put his himself in harm’s way. So, as I see it, it would be stupid just to stand there and not say something.

So when the soldier got within 15 feet of me, I walked straight toward him and stopped.

Seeing me, a perfect stranger, he did likewise. I reached out my right hand to express my thanks. Surprised, he nudged backwards just a tad, stood there for a few seconds, acting really somewhat surprised. Then the lad smiled, laughed just for a moment, relaxed. I then stated, “Thank you.” That’s all I said, but it was enough to get a reaction out of him.

“Oh, oh, oh yeah, oh thanks,” he replied.

I got the feeling that very few people have done what I did. After all, why would this veteran feel so surprised by these simple two words? My only conclusion that I drew - people are too much into their own thing without recognizing the big things others are doing for them.

Not too long ago I was returning from working out when I met a soldier standing on the sidewalk of one of our city’s streets. He was walking up and down the sidewalk, looking a bit bewildered. Well, being a part of my community for close to 38 years, I feel I know a little bit about the town and where streets are located.

So, I did what I’d do for anyone else who is in that predicament – approached him and asked, “Do you need some help finding an address? He explained that he was trying to find a certain street with a residential house number. As we were discussing the situation, we concluded that he was on the wrong side of the tracks, that the street extends up the hill on the other side, and that’s where he would find the house in question.

He thanked me and headed toward his car. I called out to him as I hastened to catch up. Stopping, he turned and looked my way. That gave me enough time to reach out my hand and say my favorite words when it comes to soldiers – “Hey, thanks for what you are doing.” I could tell just by the man’s handshake that he had a good character, for it was firm. His comeback confirmed my thoughts. “Thank you, sir,” he responded. He then climbed into his car and sped off in the direction I recommended him to go.

Even though I sure would like to do so, I am not able to travel as much as I’d like, so I don’t visit the airports as much anymore. But that shouldn’t stop me or anyone else from doing what I consider is the right thing – thanking soldiers when they are seen in churches, maybe in the supermarkets, or on our city streets.

Caps are a dead giveaway. Many veterans will wear them. The ones I’ve seen have certain wars embroidered on them. That should be a dead give-away that here we have a person that fought in a particular war and survived the enemy confrontation and returned home to tell about hit. The least we could do, in my opinion, is to confront these brave men and sometimes women and inquire if they fought in the war that was written on the clothing atop their heads. If their answers are to the affirmative, it is our duty to say “thank you.” After all, what’s the difference between then and now? Even though I am not a history buff, I can read, and what I am seeing tells me a lot about the people wearing those hats.

I think we as Americans have a responsibility to honor our veterans in various ways. The first way is to do what I disclosed above, walk up to a soldier and express one’s thanks. Second, if one knows soldiers are overseas fighting for one’s freedoms, pray for their protection, that God may keep them out of harm’s way. And third, back organizations such as Soldier’s Angels and other fine groups that are constantly showing their support. Contact them and find out what one can do to help do one’s part to back the men who are away from their loved ones, families and county, fighting for us, one’s loved ones and most of all, one’s country.

If this is our country, land that we love, show a little respect and thank each veteran that one comes upon. One will feel good about doing this, and the soldier will too, believe me when I say that.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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