“I want a love I can see. That’s the only kind that means a thing to me. Don’t want a love you have to tell me about. That kind of loving I can sure do without.” — The Temptations, 1963
A few days ago in an airport restaurant, I saw a scene that has become commonplace in recent years. These soldiers were sitting there talking, waiting for their meal. And this guy on the way out detoured over to them. “Thank you for your service,” he said.
They nodded, thanked him for thanking them. He went on his way and they went back to talking.
“Thank you for your service.” I wonder sometimes how military personnel feel about hearing that everywhere they go.
I mean, I went with my wife once to pick up a nephew, an airman returning home from overseas, and we could hardly get out of the airport for all the people stopping him to thank him. I asked what he thinks of that. He shrugged and said something noncommittal.
“Thank you for your service.”
Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve always suspected that if I were a serviceman, I might get a little tired of hearing that. Not that it isn’t earnest and not that it isn’t well meant. It is both. Indeed, a nation that treated homecoming veterans of the last long and controversial war with something less than gratitude seems determined to prove it has learned its lesson. That’s laudable.
But at the same time, in the context of how we actually treat our veterans, the greeting has also come to feel, well … facile. For me, at least, it calls to mind the Motown chestnut quoted above and the distinction between a love made manifest and one that is only words.
What would it look like if we gave our service personnel a love they could see? Well, here is what it would not look like:
It would not look like Veterans Affairs facilities across the country requiring sick and injured veterans to wait months to see the doctor, then falsifying records to make it appear they were actually being seen much more quickly. This, of course, is the scandal that has roiled the White House and put Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on the defensive.