Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Giving Unwanted Thanks to a Soldier

(Originally posted on 03/27/2012)

Don’t let the title fool you.  While I don’t support this silly war, I fully support our soldiers who are risking life and limb.  But something happened this weekend while Syd and I were at Fiesta Texas that has been bothering me, and so, I write this to get a little feedback, and maybe put my mind at ease, and as usual, to just vent.

So here is the scenario.  Syd and I were having a daddy/daughter day at Fiesta Texas this weekend.  We had spent the entire day riding every roller coaster we would find because we both love them so much.  In between the Superman and the Scream, we decided to take a break.  We stopped at a park picnic area and sat to enjoy the shade.

Also enjoying the shade was, based on the clothing that he was wearing, a young solder.  He couldn’t have been more than 25 or 26 years old.  He was in a wheel chair and both of his legs were missing.  He wore a below the knee prosthetic leg on his right leg, and his left leg was missing below the knee.  He was wearing a USMC T-shirt, had several military stickers on his chair, and had his cammo backpack on the back of his chair.  He was with a friend, also in causal military attire, and was sitting beside baby carriage, which was cradling a very small child.  The carriage had a USMC kiddie blanket over it protecting the kiddo from the sun.  His friend was video taping what I assume was their wives riding the Merry-Go-Round with another small child, around 3 or 4 years old.  The spouses and, even the 4 year old, were all wearing T-shirts advertising military connections.

As we sat, Syd was staring, as young kiddos do, and I asked her not to do so.  She asked me what happened to the guy in the chair.  I explained to her that he was a soldier, that he had been fighting in the war, and was injured while in battle.  I told her that, sometimes, our soldiers who fight for our freedom, or the freedoms of others, volunteer their lives, health, and physical safety to maintain our ideas.  Of course, I didn’t mention to her that, in this current war, they are risking their lives to maintain our governments need to stick our noses in other peoples business and police the world, but I digress.  I explained to Syd that sometimes, during the course of their duties, soldiers are seriously injured, as in this case, and loose their limbs.  She said she felt sorry for him, and I told her not to.  I told her that he made it home and gets to see his children grow up and be with his family.  I told her that, yes, it sucks that he is going to be wheelchair bound for the rest of his life, but that many soldiers don’t even get that.  Many soldiers die in battle and their children don’t get to see them again.  I explained all this to her quietly out of ear shot of the soldier and his family and friends.
She sat quietly for awhile mulling over and processing all we talked about, and then asked if it would be okay if she could go say thank you to him.  I was very proud of my little girl, and said that should could go say thank you.  But before we could stand up, an older couple walked up to the soldier, and humbly apologized for interrupting the soldiers day with his family.  The woman then crossed and blessed the soldier and thanked him for his sacrifice.  He said thank you, and the older couple walked away.  Immediately after, a small group of guys approached the soldier and his family and struck up a conversation about the fact that the group of guys was enjoying their last weekend in town before being shipped out for their tours overseas.  They chatted for a few minutes, and all of the group of guys said they were proud to be serving, and, that even though they didn’t know the wounded solder personally, they considered him a hero.  He thanked them, and the group of new soldiers departed.

As we stood up to head over, one of the wives sighed heavily, and said, very loud, “I get so sick of that shit!”  The legless soldier said “If I hear one more thank you for your service I am going to shoot myself.”  The friend and his wife made similar rude and dismissive comments.  They all laughed and walked/rolled away.  Sydney looked at me and said “Never mind, daddy.  I don’t want to say thank you anymore.”  My heart broke for her.  Her image of this would-be hero was broken.

I stood there dumbfounded.  I can imagine that it was devastating to loose his legs.  I can imagine that even hearing the constant thank yous might get a little old.  I even get that the constant interruptions to family time can get a little irritating.  And, even though many new soldiers go into battle with visions of grandeur and becoming a hero, I also know that, when reality sets in and it becomes plainly obvious that, sometimes, serving can leave a soldier in a chair for their rest of their lives, shunning or laughing at those who want to thank them for their services is downright insulting.

We spend our days hearing and seeing “support our soldiers” and most of really do.  We love and support the brave men and women who serve our country and, sometimes, pay the ultimate price for that service.  I just couldn’t believe that this soldier and his family acted the way that they did.  If he didn’t want the attention, they why was he advertising the fact that he was in the military?

It took everything I had not to go up to him and punch him in the head.  I shouldn’t let it bother me, but it did.  Their very poor attitude and comments harmed my daughters image of what a soldier and a hero is.  I maintained myself, and we walked away to enjoy the rest of our day.

Am I reading too much into it?

Either way, I am giving a big thank you to all those who serve in the military.  If you don’t want the thank you, too damn bad.  You are getting it anyway.

Just sayin’.

Comments to original post

Rosalinda Witherspoon · ITT Technical Institute
I thank no soldiers I also feel they are bothered by it, I have a son in the Navy and thank him all the time, it never bothers him I think he enjoys hearing, Thank you, and he's a proud great kid, well my kid that is. Lol.
Just explain there are good soldiers and bad soldiers Just like there are good people and they are bad people.
Hunter Hempfling · · Works at Chapel Hill UMC

I would have felt the same as you did. I infact do say thank you to soldiers for maintaining my freedom and if they do not understand it applies for all soldiers then they are stupid. I thank them all not just the ones that came home with lost limbs. people sometimes don't realize that what they say can crush a child unbeknownst to them. I mean I trhank all people for any survise they provide to me its common courtesy jeez, what has happened to being humble and having manners?
Angela Sledge Stelzer · Works at Arizona Department of Veterans' Services

DI I was a soldier. I was injured. I will end up in a chair most likely sooner than later. My injury took 7 yrs to come almost completely debilitating. In my job people know I am a Vet. I can't hold the job otherwise. It makes me very uncomfortable when I am thanked for my or my husbands service. I do not know ow one who served could be so rude to those who realize that their freedoms are because of these soldiers. I never know how to react as I don't feel that a thank you is warranted. I did my job. This young Marine was in the wrong. He is obviously proud of his service to advertise his USMC status. I am sorry that this was Syds introduction to wounded soldiers. There are many that she sees everyday that she doesn't even realize are soldiers. These soldiers came home and did not pity themselves. They came home and overcame th
e burdens of battle and reintegrated themselves into society. They most likely still suffer but they don't pity themselves or expect it from anyone else. The young Marine you saw most likely felt that people only thanked him out of pity which is hard to deal with with. This young man has been traumatized and most likely suffers with PTSD along with other serious unseen injuries. Give him time to grow up. In a few years he will most likely calm down and gain some perspective. I am not defending this young Marine. He was wrong in his reaction as was his spouse. (Spouses really get me angry) but it is not always what it seems. This man is fighting some serious demons and with maturity he will learn to be more gracious. I when approached will quietly thank the person and try to move on. Syd will have a lot of opportunity to meet more mature soldiers. Please don't allow this man to ruin Syds view of those who fight for her freedoms whether in reality or in the case of this war in ideals. Most soldiers are quiet and uncomfortable with thank yous but will accept and appreciate them. I appreciated your taking the time to teach Syd about these things. Thank you for taking the time to explain these important things to her. If you get a chance try to explain to her about quiet demons such as PTSD, TBI, depression and resentment that young soldiers often face when they come home in the prime of their lives in a state that has robbed them of their youth. Most will mature, but coming home while wonderful is a very hard transition to make especially when one is seriously wounded.
  • Dwayne Isbell · Registrar at ITT Technical Institute, East Campus

    Thank you for that response. I wanted to reply, and say, from the viewpoint of someone who didn't serve (not because I didn't want to but because I wasn't allowed to), that any person who puts their lives on the line for me and for my child is a hero and my thanks will always go out to you. It doesn't matter what you did in the military - from cleaning latrines to firing on the front lines - you put your life on the line, and because of that, you and every person who serves time is a hero in my book. And I want my child to feel the same way. I think what bothered me more than anything was the fact that her image of this type of person (military individual, regardless of their disability) was shattered. I understand where you come from, but you, your husband, and even this soldier at the park, deserve thanks from every perso
    n enjoying our freedoms. I will continue to explain to Syd and I will add in the explanations that you suggested. She will get past it. She understands my father and grandfather were military, and she respects them and understands their roles. I get that soldiers don't go into the military expecting thanks upon their return. It doesn't mean that they don't deserve that thanks. I also get that he probably has been getting the constant attention due to his disability since he got out of the military, but, as a soldier, a representative of our brave, there are better ways of handling it. Again, Angie, thanks for the perspective. It is always appreciated. Hopefully his mental and emotional wounds will heal, even if they take longer than his physical wounds.
Lisa Stiles Ellison · Director of Sales at Staybridge Suites Lubbock

My feeling is, if he didn't want the "publicity" of being a soldier that served this great country of ours... DON'T ADVERTISE IT! If I were a soldier and was injured to the extent of his injuries, I would not wear apparel that told that I was military, nor would I adorn my vehicle/wheelchair with military stickers. If you don't want the attention, as in this case, then don't advertise it. That makes me sad for Syd that she had to see that, because I am sure that it his a very rare case of bitterness. There are plenty of great men and women that have served, gotten injured, and still like for people, such as us, to go out of our way to Thank them! Tell her to keep her head up, and not let this discourage her from Thanking a Soldier!
  • Johnny Hale · Wylie High School

    I served in Vietnam and I got my first thank you for serving just a few months back. When we first got home some people would spit on us if they knew we were Vietnam veterns. It never happened to me but I heard of it.
Elizabeth Smith · · ITT Technical Institute

This guy was probably a classless jerk before he became a soldier anyway. I hope Syd will get past this and know that there are just terrible, mean, bitter people in the world. I don't know why all the "advertisement" for the Marines if he isn't proud to be one! This made me sad for Syd and our country. Thank you for sharing...and I share in your outrage both as a former soldier and military spouse.
Mindy Brewster · Centerton, Arkansas

I am not sure what to think about this situation. How he reacted very publicly was indeed wrong. He may be extremely proud to be USMC however if he does not wish for attention then he needs to take down the stickers.
I agree with Angela about the trauma this person suffered.
I am a very Proud Navy wife and there are time that I don't want to go about town strutting the Navy because we are there to have fun family time without distraction. Other times I will sport anything that say NAVY on it.
I hope this man finds a more mature approach to the situation in the future.
  • Ashley Sasser
    wow my kids tell everyone military person in uniform thank u that is shocking and crule

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