Approaching Thanksgiving, it’s time for us to make our annual mental lists of all the things we’re most thankful for. If you haven’t included freedom on your list, please allow me to suggest it.

There’s a bumper sticker that says, “If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading this in English, thank a veteran.” Now that’s powerful. How many of our brave soldiers have given the ultimate sacrifice so we can live in this great country and enjoy the freedom we all share.

We have thousands of dedicated soldiers serving all around the world. I know they appreciate all the thoughts and prayers from those of us back here at home going on with our daily lives and enjoying our precious freedom.

It’s difficult not to notice the large number of veterans in our midst. Many of them wear those familiar caps declaring what war they were in, what ship they were on, and like mine, the fact that I retired from the military.

Not long ago, veterans didn’t get the respect they get today. During the Vietnam War, our troops got little or no respect when returning home from that horrible and unpopular war. Some were even called “baby killers.” Thank goodness it’s no longer that way. The patriotism we see all around us is not only encouraging, but it’s very unifying. And there’s certainly a need for that with all the divisiveness going on in our country.

There was a time I only wore my military cap occasionally. Now, I wear it every time I go out. It’s a great communication tool. Old veterans like myself enjoy speaking and shaking hands, thanking each other for their service. When a veteran sees another veteran who served in the same branch of service, it leads to even deeper conversation. “Where were you stationed?” “How long were you in?” “When were you in?” “Were you enlisted or an officer?” And, on and on.

Like many veterans, I have a shadowbox displaying my ribbons and medals. I take pride in sharing that part of my life with visitors in my home. I served full-time from 1966 to 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War. After being discharged, I took a 15-year break from the military. Fortunately, an opportunity came along, and I joined the Air National Guard in 1985. I retired in 2002, as a master sergeant with nearly 21 years of service.

So, the military is very special to me. I served during the Vietnam War and Desert Storm. My cap says, “U.S. Air Force Retired.” And, I wear it proudly.

Here’s something for consideration: If you encounter a veteran in a restaurant, tell the waitress you’d like to pay for that person’s meal. You’ll be glad you did. And, the veteran will be reminded that there are folks who care. Let’s always remember, “Freedom is not free.”

One great result of the current patriotic movement is the fact that many, many non-military folks take the time to approach a veteran and thank them for their service. That’s a win-win, and makes both feel better.

I would highly encourage anyone who sees a veteran wearing his military cap to extend a hand and a kind word. The most appropriate thing you can say is, “Thank you for your service.” Most often that’s all that needs to be said.

To all veteran’s reading this, I extend a heart-felt, “Thank you for your service.”

Nick Aston lives in Jenks. He is retired from the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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