Thanks for the Free Appetizers, but Here's What Military Families Really Want on Veterans Day

Hint: It's not a cheaper sandwich or a discount on tires.

(Photo: Panoramic Images/Getty Images)

Nov 11, 2014· 3 MIN READ
Melissa Rayworth is a regular contributor to TakePart. She has also written for the Associated Press, Salon and Babble.

If you're serving in the military, or you served and still carry a military ID, breakfast is free for you at Denny's on Tuesday. It's Veterans Day, so you can also get a discounted lunch at Applebee's or a free appetizer with your dinner at Carrabba's Italian Grill.

It's worth pondering whether these promotions are offered out of patriotism or are designed mainly to bring in customers and impress the buying public. Either way, a bigger question remains: After more than a decade of war, is a cheaper dinner at a casual dining restaurant really the best way to honor military service? It hardly seems enough.

As a nation, we set aside this day each year to honor the sacrifice of service members past and present. Leaving the details to America's corporations seems like the wrong way to go. Here's what five military families told us when we asked: What truly meaningful things can civilians do this Veterans Day to honor military veterans and their families?

Paying Respects and Volunteering

Around Veterans Day many VFW and American Legion posts hold public memorial services at military cemeteries—that's one way to pay your respects, said Josie Beets, an Army spouse. Any time of year, you can visit a military cemetery to offer a moment of silence for those who've died in service.

If you live near a military base, you might also be able to visit a permanent memorial or one of the special displays each base creates, such as Fort Campbell's display of a boot for every military casualty since 9/11 in the global war on terror.

"I went on Sunday to donate a couple pairs of my husband's boots that were collecting dust in our closet, and the experience was transformative," Beets said. "It was a beautiful display but obviously also very overwhelming."

Inspired to do a bit more than pay a visit? Volunteer with or donate to a nonprofit that serves the families left behind when a service member dies. Two to consider: the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, which coordinates support services for families of the fallen, and the American Widow Project, founded by a 21-year-old military widow after she lost her husband in 2007 and realized there were few support services for the many young, post-9/11 widows.

Don't Worry About Being Awkward—Say Hi

Small, simple gestures can be meaningful. Chris Pape, an Air Force spouse, has this suggestion: If you see a service member in uniform out in public, walk over and say hello. Thank him or her for serving, and say thanks to any family members present. "Basic acknowledgement," Pape says, is a powerful thing—worth overcoming your fear of feeling awkward.

"It's difficult to muster the courage for some reason. I'm a fairly shy person to begin with. Asking me to approach a stranger to simply say, 'Thank you for your service,' can be a bit intimidating," Pape said. "I've learned you just have to take a deep breath, smile, and make your approach."

Pape demonstrates greeting a service member in a video—complete with comedic awkwardness—that's part of a public service campaign of videos called #30Ways.

It's still tough for him to do, so he can relate to civilians who have considered speaking up but haven't yet. "I always feel terrible when I let an opportunity slip by, which happens quite often," he says, "but feel great when I actually muster the courage."

Friendlier Skies, Comfortable Sleep

When an injured service member is treated at a military hospital, family members may need to travel from across the country and find a place to stay nearby for weeks at a time. It's expensive and stressful. Navy spouse Tammy Meyer recommends donating airline miles and hotel points to the Fisher House Foundation, a nonprofit that offers free or low-cost lodging to military families. The group helps military families get to their injured loved ones at less cost.

"The Fisher House Foundation provides comfort and community with a true home-away-from-home experience for military families in some of their greatest hours of need," said Meyer.

Warriors in Our Midst

"Guard veterans and families are a part of Everytown, USA," said National Guard spouse Alicia Hinds Ward, but many people never realize their neighbors are serving. So ask around: If you have kids, ask their school district's administrators whether there are students at the school whose parents serve in the National Guard. Explain that you'd like to thank those families for their service, and ask how you might support them in their mission.

Or, Hinds Ward says, find out if there are veterans' nursing homes in your community. Volunteer at one for a few hours, spending time with residents or offering to help with gardening or other beautification efforts. Or visit your local armory and acknowledge the effort of your neighbors by learning about the history of local units.

Support Our Troops' Businesses

Become a customer of local veteran-owned and military family–owned businesses, said Lori Volkman, a Navy reserve spouse. It's a great way to support our military families, Volkman says, so tap into a directory like The Rosie Network (yes, as in the Riveter) to find these businesses in your community. The government's Small Business Administration has designated Nov. 3–7 Veterans Small Business Week, so there's no better time to learn about veteran-owned small businesses in your area.