What Not to Say to a Veteran

In the run-up to this Veterans Day, David Barno and Nora Bensahel have prepared the memo “How to Talk to a Veteran” at War on the Rocks. Under the heading Questions to Avoid, No. 4 is “I almost joined the military, but . . .”

This statement, with its infinite variations, annoys me even more than questions 1, 2 and 3, which arise from ghoulish curiosity. I’ve heard it countless times, although never in response to any querying from me. The speaker recounts his firm intention to become an elite warrior, only to be derailed by a minor physical indisposition.  This usually is followed by the assertion that any lesser form of service would have been unworthy of him. “I was going to become an Army Ranger, (Special Forces, Navy Seal, Marine Recon scout, fighter pilot, etc.),” they say, “but I had flat feet (a pollen allergy, a trick knee, bone spurs, a deviated septum, eczema, etc.). So I said, ‘screw it.’ I wasn’t going to be a desk jockey!”

To those guilty of this effrontery, what makes you think I care? Nobody asked you to justify yourselves.  More important, do you understand how insulting it is to say you’re too good to have served in a support capacity? That if you don’t come home with veins in your teeth, it’s not worth your while? Even if I believed your story, which I don’t, this would be offensive. Do you think you’re better than a supply clerk or a forklift operator? You’re not. Modern warfare is absolutely reliant on support personnel. Everyone does his or her part.

So, tough guy, don’t tell me about how you “almost joined the military, but .  . .” I don’t care.


About Louis Marano

Louis Marano, a Vietnam veteran, is an anthropologist and a former journalist. He served two deployments to Iraq as a civilian contractor for the U.S. Army. He lives in The Plains, Virginia.

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7 responses to “What Not to Say to a Veteran”

  1. When I have the chance to talk to a member of the armed forces I simply tell them “ Thank you for defending my freedom “.

    If a conversation ensues I might say something about how at one point in my life they let me help out a little bit building the B-2. That one worked out a lot better than the A-12 : )

  2. I tell people when they see a Vietnam Vet thank them for their service – ID by hat, shirt etc. Usually Hat.

    Its overdue thanks but not too late.

    Now if I were a Vietnam Vet [they trained me as young 11B etc] I’d be pissed so I won’t tell you what not to do.
    Vietnam Vets got a raw Deal. If it helps it wasn’t in vain, the people are collectively ashamed and will not allow and have not allowed that to reoccur. The same forces that abused you are cowed from doing that…so it wasn’t in Vain and thank you for your service.

    For Vets my age – Desert Storm to present – I gently suggest don’t correct or martinet the civilians. For God’s sake they are being respectful and courteous, going out of their way to show respect. Don’t lock their heels and correct them, thank them.

    Save being a hard case for the disrespectful. Good manners and respect should always be reciprocated.

    • Here’s another way to look at it. Those of us who went to Vietnam were citizen soldiers in a conscript army just like the armies the US fielded from 1776-1972. And, just like the veterans of all those armies (except for WWII), we were simply ignored when we got home.

      Now that we have a professional standing army we are expect to kiss the a$$es. It won’t fly. They are endangering the Republic with every breath they take by their voluntary support of wars for empire and wars to reduce the economic transaction costs for the bankers in New York, London and Frankfurt.

      Let Goldman Sacks and Deutschebank cover the these costs.

      Furthermore, they’re a bunch of clowns with their gaudy medals, badges and attitudes.

      • Gee Erik, “Zuul” ????
        Fuck you too.

        That’s all your worth.
        You may die now.

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  3. After reading the title of this article i was already preparing my remarks about the pseudo-psychiatrists who want to analyze us and tell America what to say to her delicate returning warriors
    As a Vietnam Era Vet, I have seen my share of the analyses by the “concerned”.

    I must applaud Mr. Marano for this article. Man what a good read. I laughed out loud. How many times have I heard the same stories?

    Semper Fi Brother,