How to the Thank the Veterans: 5 Specific Ways to Honor Those Who’ve Served

When we consider how we can thank the veterans who have dedicated their lives to protecting our freedoms, saying “thank you for your service” is just the beginning. In this guide, we explore five meaningful ways to honor, support, and thank the veterans for the immense sacrifices and contributions they’ve made for our country.

How to thank the veterans with sincerity & respect

When you want to thank the veterans, considering your intentions and being thoughtful about your message can go a long way. Every veteran has a unique experience and way of relating to it, and it’s important to honor that however possible. Here are a few things to consider when thinking about how to most respectfully thank the veterans.

Know what you’re thanking them for.

Expressing genuine gratitude requires more than just words—it requires a genuine understanding of and appreciation for their service. Take the time to understand military service, what that means for the country, and how you might have benefited from their sacrifices as a civilian. If you know them personally, consider the implications of their specific contributions, whether they served in combat, provided medical support, or contributed in other ways.

Whether or not you name any specific details, understanding the impact of military service and why you’re thanking them in the first place makes your expression more meaningful and sincere—and that will be felt.

Another important distinction to make is between veterans and active duty military: both deserve recognition and appreciation, but they are not the same.

Are active duty military considered veterans?

Active duty military personnel are not technically considered veterans until they complete their service and retire, or are honorably discharged, from the armed forces. While they are currently serving their country, they have not yet transitioned into the veteran status. However, it’s essential to honor and support them throughout their service, just as we do for veterans.

Veterans Day v Memorial Day v Armed Forces Day

If you’re expressing your gratitude on one of the three major holidays reserved for this purpose, make sure you know the intention of each distinct holiday.

Veterans Day, observed on November 11th, honors all military veterans who have served in the United States Armed Forces. It’s a day to thank living veterans for their service and sacrifice.
Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday of May, commemorates and honors military personnel who have died in the line of duty while serving their country. It’s a time to remember and pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Armed Forces Day, observed on the third Saturday of May, celebrates and honors all active-duty members of the U.S. military.

While there is never an inappropriate time to thank the veterans, thanking a veteran on Memorial Day or Armed Forces Day is not customary.

Be genuine in your gratitude.

If you choose to thank the veterans, do so because you want to, offering sincere gratitude rather than obligatory thank you’s. There is nothing wrong with saying “thank you for your service” but when you have the opportunity, offer more by reflecting on how their service has directly impacted your life or acknowledging how it has contributed to the greater good of our country in a way that resonates with you personally. For instance, you might reflect on the sacrifices they’ve made to safeguard your freedom from fear—and what makes that important for you or your family. If you’re not sure what to say instead of “thank you for your service,” here are a few specific messages of appreciation to get you thinking.

Be specific about your appreciation.

When you thank the veterans, it becomes more impactful when you’re specific about your appreciation. If you know the branch of the military in which they served and the timeframe of their service, mention it. By naming their branch and acknowledging their period of service, you demonstrate that you’ve taken the time to learn about how they served and the values they represented. Whether they served during peacetime or in conflict, your recognition of their specific experiences helps convey your genuine appreciation and can make them feel more valued.

Get to know the veteran as a person.

Every veteran’s experience is different, and navigating conversations about their service requires sensitivity and respect. Just as with any person you appreciate and respect, taking the time to get to know them on a personal level can deepen your connection and show your genuine interest in their experiences.

Veterans often have stories to tell, and many appreciate the opportunity to share them. Asking open-ended questions can be a great way to invite their stories and learn more about their service. However, it’s important to approach these conversations with care, recognizing that some veterans may have experienced trauma during their military service that makes it difficult or painful to talk about certain elements. Approach these conversations with empathy and understanding, and consider explicitly inviting them to share as much or as little as they feel comfortable.

Here are some ideas for respectful and sensitive questions to ask a veteran:

  • Can you tell me about your experience in the military?
  • What inspired you to join the [branch of service]?
  • What were some of the most memorable moments during your service?
  • How did your military experience shape who you are today?

Do not limit your gratitude to one day a year.

While keeping a calendar of upcoming military holidays is a great way to remember and create space to thank the veterans, it’s important to recognize that gratitude shouldn’t be limited to just one day each year. Make an effort to show appreciation and gratitude to veterans whenever the opportunity arises, whether it’s on a holiday or any other day of the year. Letting veterans know they are appreciated and valued is a meaningful gesture that can make a big difference.

5 ways to thank the veterans

One of the simplest, most powerful ways to thank the veterans is with words of appreciation, but that’s not the only way. You can also offer gifts, advocacy, and acts of service in return for their generous service

1. Write a letter thanking a veteran for their service.

A letter provides an opportunity to convey your appreciation in detail, expressing specific reasons why their service is valued and how it has impacted you or others. It allows for a more intimate connection, as the veteran can read and reread your words, knowing that their service is genuinely appreciated. Receiving a letter can be particularly meaningful for veterans who may feel overlooked or underappreciated, reminding them that their efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Letter writing is a great way to thank the veterans in your family and community, and it’s also a great option if you don’t know any veterans personally, as you can work with letter writing programs like A Million Thanks or Operation Gratitude. If you’re not sure how to thank a veteran in a letter, these organizations offer guidelines and instructions, as well as deliver the letter veterans who would benefit most.

2. Share some quotes of appreciation.

Sometimes, someone else has already articulated what you want to say perfectly. Especially if you’ve decided to thank the veterans with a letter, quotes can help carry your message—particularly if you’re struggling to convey a particular idea. Here are a few thanking veterans quotes to help inspire you. Additionally, If you ever come across a story or quote that inspires you and makes you feel extra grateful for those who’ve served, sharing it in the moment with a veteran you know is a great way to communicate genuine appreciation—often appreciation without occasion is the most powerful.

3. Volunteer at a VA hospital.

Volunteering at a VA hospital is a direct and meaningful way to thank the veterans for their service. Your time and efforts can make a significant difference in their lives. Whether it’s assisting with activities or providing companionship, your presence can brighten their day and show them that their sacrifices are appreciated. It’s a tangible way to give back to those who have served our country and express gratitude for their dedication and sacrifice.

4. Support veteran-owned businesses.

One impactful way to express gratitude and appreciation for veterans is by supporting veteran-owned businesses. By choosing to spend your money at veteran-owned establishments, you are directly contributing to the success and livelihood of those who have served our country. As a veteran-owned company ourselves, we know how important this is. Whether it’s purchasing veteran-crafted goods, dining at a veteran-owned restaurant, or hiring a veteran-owned company, your support can make a significant difference.

5. Give a gift honoring veterans and their service.

Whether seeking veteran gifts for a community Veterans Day event or military personalized gifts for a loved one, this can be a deeply meaningful and thoughtful way to thank the veterans, as well as help honor and preserve their legacy. At Navy Paddles, we offer a range of customizable gifts designed to honor and distinguish the unique service and sacrifice of veterans. 

Here are just a few veteran gift ideas, each hand-crafted in our veteran-owned shop:

Gratitude is more than just a sentiment; it’s a call to action. As we thank the veterans for their brave service, let’s commit to demonstrating our appreciation through ongoing support and recognition. Let’s make it a regular practice to show veterans how much their sacrifices mean to us, not just with gifts for veterans on designated holidays, but in the ordinary moments of life too. Thank you for your service, veterans.

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