Thank You For Your Service
After a while it got old.
Then it just got to be a pain to hear it.
Everyone was saying it,
as if it was something they had learned in grade school,
“Thank you for your service.”
Some companies, I had heard,
Insisted that the cashiers or other employees
say the phrase to any person they meet
that they learn is a veteran.
A lot of the kids at jobs have no time experience
for the time the veteran was a veteran,
and that used to rankle me some.
I did not like it that these kids
were mouthing that phrase as if it was a sort of
“have a nice day” thing.
Hated that one, too – still do.
How dare anyone tell me what kind of day to have!?
So, “Thank you for your service” became old and worn out
in very short order for me.
when someone says to me,
“Thank you for your service,”
it makes me mentally pause,
and I usually respond with,
“Thank you for your kind thoughts.”
Because, when I am thanked for my service,
I remember so much about that service,
and all that went into making me a veteran,
and I am reminded of all that I have reason
to be proud of, as a veteran.
At 17 I went into the Army
and those first months were scary,
frightening, full of firsts that I had never before imagined.
Could not have imagined.
Shared open toilets and showers,
walking fire guard in the barracks at 3am,
reveille at 5am, fear as you ran to get into uniform,
run to stand at attention outisde…
Standing in line for chow,
marching everywhere, or being trucked,
classes, firing ranges, guard duty with an empty weapon,
KP, double-time and route step and always tired,
always, always so very tired.
Trying to stay awake during long and dull
and boring classes.
Learning things you had to know in the military,
wondering what the hell made you join up in the first place…
being afraid of what was going to happen that afternoon,
tomorrow or next week, or even after you finished
and went on to Advanced Individual Training.
Worrying that you would not make it,
and what that would mean for you.
The first taste of that first cold 3.2 beer
that you were allowed to have one weekend
half way through Basic Training.
Then back to your company area
and back to the grind.
Inspections. More inspections. And still more.
And you never got it all perfect.
You weren’t supposed to — that was part of it.
You felt like you might be worthy of it,
but you were uncertain.
Riding a train to your next duty or training unit.
Graduation parade after that….
then on to your first duty station.
Some would eventually go to war.
We were fucking KIDS!, and going to war.
Nineteen years old,
and we should have been in the back of a car
in a drive-in back home,
trying to figure out a bra clasp.
We had guns and lots of ammunition
and lots of pucker power and lots of fear.
We made deals with God over and over,
nearly every damn day in a combat zone,
and I wonder how many of us kept those promises…
We earned the lines in our faces,
the nightmares in our minds,
the ribbons on our chests…
We left friends behind,
we left pieces of flesh behind,
we left bits of our minds behind,
when we came back home.
Some of us never made it back completely.
Oh, we were home physically,
back in the land of the big PX,
but the reality of it was not the Great American Dream
and it never would be.
We were not respected,
we were not given much of a chance,
and we were always, always suspect.
We were the generation of drug-crazed baby killers,
rapists of 14 year-old virgins in our combat zones,
(although I wager there were damn few of those around)
and because of our way of playing war,
with our helicopters and napalm
and M16s that looked like something out of Buck Rogers,
we were suspect – we had a totally different kind of war
than the civilian world had any experience with,
and we were, because we had been different,
we were different to them, and treated differently
than they had been treated.
No ticker-tape parades,
no welcome home, no beers bought for us at the Legion
and the VFW didn’t want us to hang around much,
as “our” war was so much different than “their” war.
Kids we grew up with, from our classes in school –
they were in college, they were married
with kids of their own,
but when we tried to talk with them,
they were still just kids –
there was no way to relate to them any more.
In desperation we took any job we could find,
and did our best to maintain a low profile,
but there was always someone who wanted to ride your ass,
because of who you were, where you had been,
what you had done…
and they always thought they had to prove they were better.
That didn’t always work out for them.
Some of us got into swimming our way to the bottom of a bottle.
Some of us couldn’t get to sleep at night unless we were drunk.
Some of us couldn’t function in the world unless we were drunk.
High was expensive, though. Beer was cheaper.
Beer was a wall to hide behind.
Beer was a safe bunker on the perimeter of our base camp.
Sometimes we got so tired of trying
to work our way into the system nicely
that we just lost it now and then.
We went to the VA for medical reasons,
we went to the VA for mental/emotonal reasons,
and we were treated like crap there, as well.
In the true spirit of the in-country phrase,
“Fuck it – don’t mean nothin’,” that we used so much
as our step away from when the shit did hit the fan,—
eventually it became a mantra for us.
Bad job? FIDMN. Speeding ticket? FIDMN.
Bad marriage? FIDMN. Life sucks? FIDMN.
I went to a lot of funerals of guys who took a shitty way out.
No one ever understood why they did it,
but I knew.
It hurt like hell, but I knew.
So much shit to think about,
and it all comes back,
so quickly and so easily,
every damn time someone says to me,
“Thank you for your service.”
I wish they would stop saying that to me.
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