Tag Archives: Matt Richtel

Some expressions become meaningless

People extend greetings or offer certain expressions that at times — all too frequently, actually — seem like cliché.

“Have a nice/blessed/wonderful day.” “How ya doin’?” “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Those three have become trite and, frankly, hackneyed.

A New York Times essay tells of veterans who don’t like people saying, “Thank you for your service.”


Why is that? According to the Times, vets feel that the expression of thanks from non-veterans rings shallow, tinny, insincere. As one vet told the Times, those offer such expressions “don’t have skin in the game,” meaning they haven’t seen war in Afghanistan or Iraq.

I kind of understand the feeling here. Thanking someone for their service does sound like something one is supposed to say — even when the expression of thanks comes from the heart of the person offering it.

Matt Richtel’s article states: “To these vets, thanking soldiers for their service symbolizes the ease of sending a volunteer army to wage war at great distance — physically, spiritually, economically. It raises questions of the meaning of patriotism, shared purpose and, pointedly, what you’re supposed to say to those who put their lives on the line and are uncomfortable about being thanked for it.”

One of the vets Richtel interviewed had an interesting take on these expressions: The idea of giving thanks while not participating themselves is one of the core vet quibbles, said (Michael) Freedman, the Green Beret. The joke has become so prevalent, he said, that servicemen and women sometimes walk up to one another pretending to be ‘misty-eyed’ and mockingly say ‘Thanks for your service.’

“Mr. Freedman, 33, feels like the thanks ‘alleviates some of the civilian guilt,’ adding: ‘They have no skin in the game with these wars. There’s no draft.’

“No real opinions either, he said. ‘At least with Vietnam, people spit on you and you knew they had an opinion.’”

I never got spit on when I came home from Vietnam. But I’ve discovered that a particular expression does resonate with Vietnam veterans. It’s a pretty simple statement that we didn’t hear much back then: Welcome home.

As the vets interviewed by the Times said, they appreciate hearing from those who’ve been there. Those who haven’t, well, those expressions of thanks at times make today’s vets bristle.

As Richtel writes: “(Hunter) Garth appreciates thanks from someone who makes an effort to invest in the relationship and experience. Or a fellow vet who gets it. Several weeks ago, he visited one of his soul mates from the mud hut firefight, which they refer to as the Battle of the Unmarked Compound. They drank Jameson whiskey in gulps.

“’We cried in each other’s arms until we both could tell each other we loved each other,’ Mr. Garth said. ‘We each said, thank you for what you’ve done for me.’”