What to Say When You See A Serviceman

Some of the conversations we’ve had in our house today involved learning about veterans, the different branches of the military, and a reminder about the difference between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day.

“Do we still have wars?”

“Yes, we do.”

“If there are still wars that we are involved in, why do we get to just walk around and be free?”

“It’s because they KEEP us free, baby. They leave their families and homes and loved ones to protect us and our freedoms, even for those who aren’t thankful.”

We talked about terrorists and what purpose terrorists have and that no, terrorists don’t just live in New York, they are in every state, even ours, which shocked them – surely terrorists don’t live in the South.

Yes, they do.

We took this photo on our trip to Washington, DC. It’s from the Newseum; a wall of the front page of all of the major newspapers and even some smaller publications announcing the September 11th act of terrorism against our country. It’s easy to think that we’re so far removed from danger but the sad thing is, terrorism can be homegrown just as easily as it is grown abroad.


On that trip, we also visited Arlington and the tomb of the unknown soldier. It was dark, and cloudy, and rainy, but the soldier considered it his honor to stand guard, even while soaking wet.


On our way back to our hotel, there was a man dressed in fatigues in the subway. Sad confession: when I see a person in uniform, I rarely say anything directly to them. Not because I don’t want to, but because anything I have to say seems insignificant.

“Thank you for sacrificing your time with your family so I can go into Pizza Hut and eat this pizza safely?”

Not good.

“Thank you for your service. I’m sorry there are some horrible people out there who don’t respect you. I’m sorry you have to spend every holiday away from your children and family to protect me. Thank you for protecting us and putting your own life in danger. I wish I could buy your coffee but I selfishly just bought x, y, or z before I saw you in the checkout line and I’m out of cash but I’m still thankful.”

Nope. None of that seems appropriate. Or adequate. What can you say to let them know you are so thankful? Nothing seems good enough.

But this man in the subway. I mustered up my courage (you know, the no one’s shooting at me and I’m totally safe kinda courage) and said, “I see you have a uniform on. Do you mind if I ask you where you serve?”

And it was that simple.

He tells me he’s in the army. With LH by my side, we ask him how long he’s been in, where he lives, and what we can do to help him. He tells us he has been in for over 20 years, and that he is in charge of the money. He helps the Army spend the money they have effectively, and allocates money for the right purposes. And then he answers the last question, “What is the one thing we can do that will help our servicemen the most,” his reply caught me off guard.

“No one has ever asked me that.”

Which is crazy. Here we were in Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, where pride and love for our country should abound. You’d think they would hear it so much it would be like asking asking when the next subway train is due. But it seems there are a whole lot more people like me, with cat-got-your-tongue disease than there are those who say something. Turns out, the best thing you can do is just what I had just done. Say hi. Ask them how they serve, and tell them they’re appreciated. Tell them that they’re loved and remembered and prayed for, and thank them for their service that helps defend our great nation and freedoms. You never know when they last heard encouragement.


  1. says

    Ohhhh… As a Veteran and an Army Wife, I love your post. I love that you are teaching your child that we are still at war and to respect the Soldiers who defend our country. Just beautiful! Bless you!

    • Karen says

      Thank you Liz! Please tell your husband thank you from us! BTW, I stopped by your site – two of my favorite things, crafting and encouraging. Can’t wait to read more!
      – Karen

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