09-12 Bill with stocking

William F. Patrick

Recently I arrived at work to find a Christmas stocking and gift bag on my desk.

This is not normal in a business were threats are more common than compliments.

Inside were packages of instant food, bagged cookies and crackers, beef jerky, coffee – and other assorted goodies.

I would have loved to receive a trove like that a lifetime ago, when I was a U.S. Marine in the field.

I remembered 19-year-old Lance Corporal Bill Patrick, sleep-deprived and feet freezing. Despite his best efforts, he couldn't keep the water in his foxhole from creeping into his boots. I imagined how much he would have loved the real coffee, the instant soup, or the bags of cookies, instead of the military supplied “meals ready to eat.”

Inside was a card from “Stockings for Soldiers and Veterans,” a nationwide campaign to honor service-members and veterans during the holidays. In Anderson County, it's spearheaded by Rhone Funeral Home.

“Thank you for your service,” the card read.

The phrase has become part of American culture. People of all ages approach veterans in restaurants, shopping malls, grocery stores, and other public places to shake their hands and thank them for their sacrifices.

Handshakes are given, smiles are exchanged. Veterans mumble a somewhat awkward thanks.

This outwardly graceless reply to such sincere thanks is not intentional. Soldiers are accustomed to accomplishing the impossible in circumstances most right-thinking people avoid. They do so routinely, without thanks or recognition.

During my decade of service, my fellow service-members and I frequently overcame formidable odds to get the job done. But lack of recognition was never a problem. Frankly, it never occurred to us; it's simply how we were taught.

“Oh, you want to be thanked,” I remember my Marine Corps drill instructor screaming at another recruit during boot camp in 1987. “Uncle Sam thanks you twice a month with your paycheck. If it's good enough for me, you can bet it's good enough for you.”

A typical service-member rarely, if ever, believes he or she is doing anything praiseworthy. They see sacrificing their todays for others' tomorrows as part of the job they signed up for. They are proud to do it.

For most of us, thanking us for our service is akin to thanking the sun for rising, the birds for singing, or water for being wet. No thanks are necessary.

Sitting here, thumbing through the treats in my stocking, and rifling through the goody-bag I received, I found myself reading the accompanying card over and over.

Thank you for your service.

To accept a gift is to acknowledge one is special, something most veterans have difficulty doing. Most of us will praise the gunner to our left and the rifleman to our right, while always viewing our own contribution as nothing but a day's work.

Rhone Funeral Home and Stockings for Soldiers and Veterans, as well as the multitude of people approaching veterans in public, let us know that, despite our awkward reservations, we deserve their thanks.

I think I can safely speak for all of us when I say, “you're welcome.”