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How you can respectfully thank a veteran for their service

How you can respectfully thank a veteran for their service
How you can respectfully thank a veteran for their service 03:11

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Tomorrow is Veterans Day, one day per year we set aside to thank those who have served our country in peace or war.

But what about the other 364 days of the year? Do you thank a veteran when you see one wearing something like a hat or a shirt that makes them stand out? Should you say something? That's what KDKA's John Shumway wanted to find out. 

We see them daily, the veteran with the hat indicating their time of service, whether it be during World War II, Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan. 

Vietnam Veterans Hat, Service Ribbons & Pouches
Vietnam Veterans Hat, Service Ribbons & Pouches On Camouflage Uniform Getty Images/iStockphoto

The question is how we should react.

We have a long tradition of honoring our veterans with parades every November in Pittsburgh and in small towns throughout the region.

What we perhaps don't realize is that the returning veteran can have a range of emotions. 

"Almost feels like (being) an exile in your own country," said Retired U.S. Army Rangers Captain Sean Parnell.

Parnell chronicled his time in Afghanistan in the book Outlaw Platoon, saying that the transition home was not easy and he's very open about the pain. 

"I said, you know, the civilians would just never understand," Parnell said. "And I locked that pain away inside of myself and I promised myself to never talk about it again."

But Parnell says there needs to be a bridge from soldiers to civilians.

"Civilians can't be afraid to ask about it," Parnell said. "Veterans can't be afraid to talk about it."

So the grocery store encounter with a veteran wearing his service is important. 

"If you want to say 'Thank you for your service,' I can guarantee you that veteran will really appreciate that because they don't hear that enough," said Steve Monteleone, Retired U.S. Air Force veteran and CEO of It's About The Warrior.

Monteleone's service was also in the sandbox and says the encounter doesn't have to be in depth, just needs to be gratitude. 

"Most veterans are kind of pretty humble and don't want to make a big big scene about their their service," Monteleone said.

"Are you going to open that wound?" Parnell asked. "If you say to the veteran, 'Thank you for your service,' I think that's the hesitancy we just don't know. To me, that if someone says 'Thank you for your service' to me, I'm always so grateful. You know, and most veterans, 99.9% of veterans are going to feel the same way."

Parnell says that with Vietnam veterans, he not only thanks them for their service, but adds 'Welcome home' because their coming-home experience was not as welcoming at the time due to the controversy over the war in the 1970's. 

If it seems like the veteran you thank for their service want to say more and engage into a deeper conversation, read the room, be willing to listen, and maybe if the vet is someone you are closer to, spend a little time and see if they want to talk about it. Listening is the key. 

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