BIDDEFORD — I recently endured my fifth Veterans Day since retiring from the military, complete with people’s awkward greetings on that special day.

“Thank you for your service,” a phrase most appropriate to offer to men and women who served or are serving in our armed forces on Veterans Day, has become so overused it often seems to be said out of necessity, not sincerity, because that’s what people feel obligated to say when they meet a veteran.

Unfortunately, a few well-intentioned people actually wished me a “Happy Veterans Day,” as if this were a day of celebration (like the Marine Corps’ Birthday, on Nov. 10, or Christmas). Veterans Day was created to remember past wars and the men and women who sacrificed of themselves and lived to tell about it. It is not appropriate to pin “happy” as an adjective to this special day of remembrance.

So, then, how should someone sincerely thank vets for their service and sacrifice? Some people give money to a charity that cared for or comforted a veteran in their life – a veterans’ home or service organization. That’s nice and often helpful.

However, I suggest you follow the veterans’ example and serve something bigger – give of yourself. While our service men and women took an oath to support and defend our Constitution for two or more years of their lives, I am not suggesting everyone should run to the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force or Coast Guard recruiter’s office and take the oath of enlistment.

However, I do recommend you sacrifice a most valuable commodity, your time – even if it’s just four or five hours a month – and share your skills by volunteering with an organization that serves our military, veterans and their families.

As I travel the state and talk to the leaders in military communities, Department of Veterans Affairs facilities and state-run veterans’ homes, as well as university veterans’ support organizations, it is clear there are many ways volunteers could serve our military members, veterans and their families.

The required volunteer skills include a caring heart, a listening ear, the ability to laugh with a veteran or their family member, a desire to share information on available services and the willingness to be available.

The services provided might include:

 Helping a veteran work a kiosk to check-in for an appointment at a VA clinic.

Driving a veteran to medical appointments in a VA shuttle.

Greeting a patient at an optometry or women’s health clinic in a military or VA medical facility.

Playing cards and talking to a veteran residing in the VA hospital or state veterans’ home.

Teaching a military child about disaster preparedness.

Providing refreshments – a cup of coffee, bottle of water or some snacks – at a college veterans’ lounge or during a military or veterans’ event.

Perhaps you really want to give of yourself and donate blood in honor or memory of a veteran. Great! You can find blood drives throughout the state at

Just like military service, these assignments sometimes can be scary as you go to unfamiliar places and perform missions different from anything you may have done before. Again, like military service, you will serve alongside people who will train and support you on your mission. Don’t worry! You can do this!

If you are courageous enough to volunteer, then the next time you meet a veteran you will not have to rely on trite, overused greetings. Instead, you can thank the service member or veteran for inspiring you to serve others. That will be rewarding for everyone concerned.

Don’t know how to get started? It is easy: Contact your local Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans or American Red Cross office, and they will gratefully help link you with valuable programs and opportunities to serve … yes, even serve like a veteran.

Volunteering in honor or memory of a service member or veteran is a great New Year’s resolution to make as you prepare for next Veterans Day.