Is it OK to say ‘Happy Veterans Day’ or ‘thank you for your service’? Here’s what to know – USA TODAY

Nearly 18 million people will be honored at Veterans Day celebrations held Friday across the country and globe for a holiday that ties back to the end of World War I.

The date marks when Germany and the Allies signed a 1918 agreement to end war hostilities. Fighting ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. At the time, Nov. 11, 1918 was known as the end of “the war to end all wars,” according to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

In 1919, President Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day to celebrate and observe the end of hostilities with parades, public meetings and a “brief suspension of business beginning.” 

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory,” Wilson declared.

On Nov. 11, banks, post offices, and many businesses will close their doors to honor veterans and active-duty military personnel’s “patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good,” the Veterans Affairs’ website says.

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Why was it Armistice Day before Veterans Day?

Armistice Day was declared to honor those who had served in World War I and later evolved to observe veterans of all U.S. wars. 

After Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day in 1954, the holiday was celebrated in October for several years in the 1970s, but was eventually changed back to its original date of Nov. 11.

The day continues to be known as Armistice Day throughout some European countries, including France.

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Is it OK to say ‘Happy Veterans Day’ or ‘thank you for your service’?

Avoid saying “Happy Veterans Day,” – there are better words to use, John Raughter, deputy director of media relations for American Legion, told USA TODAY last year. (You should also never say “Happy Memorial Day.”)  

Saying “thank you for your service” is a better option.

Michael Brennan, a U.S. Army veteran and associate clinical director for a veterans program at Rush University, shared in a Psychology Today essay that often when he was in uniform, people would thank him for his service and it felt great to receive the acknowledgment and it would make me feel proud of what I do.”

But, there are some who could find that phrase offensive, too, Raughter said. Some veterans were drafted and did not volunteer for service, and others may have different feelings about their time serving.

“Just be normal and ask them about their greatest accomplishments, both personal and professional, if they choose to share,” Shawn Brown, a U.S. Army veteran, previously told USA TODAY.

Black veterans face different realities

Despite serving in every American war, Black veterans have long faced added burdens in returning from military service. 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found in a 2021 report that while 12% of U.S. veterans are Black or African American, Black veterans were overrepresented in the homeless veteran population, accounting for over one third of nearly 20,000 people.

In 2016, Equal Justice Initiative Director Bryan Stevenson wrote that “no one was more at risk of experiencing violence and targeted racial terror than African-American veterans who had proven their valor and courage as soldiers” during the Civil War, WWI and WWII.

“Because of their military service, African-American veterans were seen as a particular threat to Jim Crow and racial subordination. Thousands of African-American veterans were accosted, assaulted, attacked, threatened, abused or lynched following military service.”

After WWII, Black veterans were more at risk of experiencing targeted racial violence at home and were denied access to programs like the 1944 G.I. Bill, which benefitted millions of veterans transitioning to civilian life, according to a 2017 Equal Justice Initiative report

More: The Black veteran community’s road to recovery

What do health experts recommend saying?

Some medical and mental health providers say that it’s good to vary the intended compliment based on the individual, Brennan wrote.

Some examples are “thank you for your willingness to serve,” “welcome home,” or “thank you for your sacrifice.”

Ultimately, Brennen believes it’s best to acknowledge someone’s service regardless of a veteran’s “era of service, branch of service, active or non-active status or deployment area of operation, etc.,” he said.

Veterans Day differs from Memorial Day

Unlike Veterans Day, Memorial Day honors military members who died while serving in U.S. forces. 

Memorial Day was declared a national holiday through an act of Congress in 1971, and its roots date back to the Civil War era, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

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How to support veterans

Brennan recommends getting involved in your local veterans’ organizations by either volunteering, donating resources or just acknowledge a veteran for their service when you meet one. You can also patron a veteran-owned business or visit veterans hospital patients. 

Veterans usually like being asked about their time in and out of the service if they seem comfortable opening up.

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Camille Fine is a trending visual producer on USA TODAY’s NOW team. 

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