Veterans Day: A Small Gesture Can Have a Big Impact

Veterans Day: A Small Gesture Can Have a Big Impact

By Dan Schnock
National Alumni Director, Wounded Warrior Project

I felt a tug on my jacket. It was 2006, I was in Washington, DC, and I was standing in line to order food at a restaurant when a young girl of about 10 tugged at my uniform to get my attention. She said, “Sir, I’d like to pay for your food.”

It was a bold step that I deeply appreciated. I gently thanked her and waved at her parents, accepting their kindness with a humble heart. I still think about them and send them blessings. It was such a kind thing, and it might look like a small gesture, but has had positive ripple effects for years.

That same gentle wave of kindness is what I wish for every Veterans Day. When people say, “thank you for your service,” I feel both humbled and proud. It’s great that people want to express thankfulness. I don’t think the average American has a chance to say thank you to our military service men and women very often.
The beautiful thing is that no matter what political climate we’re in, that thankfulness shows that the American people back every branch of the military including every soldier, sailor, Marine, airman and Coast Guard member who makes our way of life possible.

When you ask why they serve, most members of the military will say they don’t do it for the recognition. Most of us served out of a sense of duty (just doing my job) and selflessness (if not me, then who). But it’s important to recognize the sacrifices service members, and their families, make every day.

On Veterans Day in particular, service members want to feel honored and welcomed into our everyday lives. Maybe all we do is fly the U.S. flag. A simple tribute. That’s all it takes to make someone feel appreciated. Let’s not wait until Memorial Day to remember the fallen heroes. Let’s celebrate the lives of those who are among us and go unnoticed.

The Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) veterans you’ll read about here come from all walks of life. They have families, send their kids to school, work in our communities, and want to continue contributing – just like the rest of us, but with a perspective that makes them wise, unique, and appreciative of all the things others might take for granted.

Anthony Villarreal, U.S. Marine Corps

How do you respond when your fellow Americans express gratitude for your military service?

I feel grateful that people want to recognize and help wounded veterans and active service members. It’s good to know people are watching out for those still serving our country. I joined the military because I wanted to give back. What amazes me is how many have given back to me – their time, emotions, and wisdom – all because they want to show thanks for my service and sacrifice. We’re all in this together. It makes me want to help my country even more.

What would you like people to know about you as a veteran?

I would like people to realize that veterans have goals and dreams like everyone else – some of those dreams can be outside of the military. After my injuries, I wanted to reenlist and keep serving. Later, I remembered I always had an interest in becoming a chef. I worked in the restaurant industry for two to three years before joining the military. The art of preparing dishes continues to intrigue me.

How do you observe Veterans Day?

I cherish Veterans Day. It’s not just a day off anymore. Now I know there are people who sacrifice. I am one of those people, and I was close to guys who didn’t make it back. To my young child, I’d try to explain there are people like Dad who joined the military because they want to make things better. On Veterans Day, we celebrate service members and let them know we’re thinking about them.

Lisa Crutch, U.S. Army

How do you respond when your fellow Americans express gratitude for your military service?

I feel like I was just doing my job in the Army, and sometimes I feel uncomfortable being thanked. I’ve wondered if they would thank me if they knew the things I had to do. I talk to a lot of groups representing Wounded Warrior Project, so I do have a chance to practice accepting recognition from people.

What would you like people to know about you as a veteran?

There are a few things I would want people to know. For instance, there are women veterans. I feel I constantly have to affirm that fact as a female veteran. Yes, I am a female veteran. Yes, I am a wounded veteran. Yes, I was the .50 cal gunner in the back of a gun truck in Iraq. Women serve in the military just like men. We serve on the front lines and do the same jobs.

I also want people to know that not all wounds are visible, and just because I look OK, it doesn’t mean that I am.

How do you observe Veterans Day?

I observe Veterans Day in respectful ways, and by flying the flag. My neighbors know I’m a veteran because I have a flag that says, “a veteran lives here.”

I will attend a parade if I have a chance, but I don’t get in line for free food, and I’d rather avoid barbecues. I think many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day and miss the chance to show appreciation for living veterans in appropriate ways.Every day that I’m doing something for or with veterans is Veterans Day.

I think it’s important to educate people on the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day is for those who have passed away. Veterans Day is for living veterans like myself.

The important thing about educating people is that when you know better, you do better. After my military service, I have a better understanding of many things including Veterans Day.

What does Veterans Day mean to your loved ones? (from Donald Crutch, spouse)

I am honored that I married a veteran who served our country. I think about what she went through, and I’m here for her. I like to say that I observe and listen like a sponge. I’m here for her to talk to and express how she feels. I know she’s been through a lot, and I like to help her get out, have fun, and stay positive.

Michael Matthews, U.S. Army

How do you respond when your fellow Americans express gratitude for your military service?

I feel grateful to hear people say, “thank you.” I, myself, feel thankful that I had the opportunity to serve and make a difference. I make the most of exchanges with people who want to say “thank you,” and I share positive stories about my time in active duty service.

What would you like people to know about you as a veteran?

That even though I’m not currently on active duty, I’m still finding ways to serve my country and my fellow citizens. I’m still serving – I’m just not in uniform. I’m still dedicated to making my city, state, and country a better place. My wife shares that dedication, and she’s also a veteran.

How do you observe Veterans Day?

I participate in activities with the Military Order of the Purple Heart in the Houston area, around Veterans Day, and also year-round. This might be parades, service projects, or feeding homeless veterans in collaboration with other veteran service organizations.

I also get to visit schools and talk to students about veterans. I tell them, as I tell my children, that Veterans Day is a time to thank someone for their current service or for having served in the military in the past. It’s good to say “thank you” for taking time out of your life to serve your country. It’s about simply expressing gratitude to someone who has done something that only about 1 percent of our population does.

What does having veteran parents mean to you? (from Jayden Matthews, son)

It makes me very happy and proud to be their son. My dad doesn’t talk a lot about being in Iraq or getting injured, but he loves sharing stories about serving. My mom now works for Texas Veterans Commission and helps veterans find employment.

As you can see, veterans continue to answer the call to service long after they stop wearing a uniform. WWP is committed to helping wounded veterans keep their sense of purpose. When they’re ready to start their next mission, WWP stands ready to serve.

About Wounded Warrior Project

Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers – helping them achieve their highest ambition. WWP is a national, nonpartisan organization accredited with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), top rated by Charity Navigator, and holding a GuideStar Platinum rating. To get involved and learn how WWP connects, serves, and empowers, visit

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