#VeteransDay: Why I Don’t Feel I Deserve Free Meals or Free Anything Else

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This morning, my family and I went to Denny’s. My wife and I decided that since they would be offering free meals for veterans today, it would be a good idea to go. Plus, the one we go to is about 30 miles away from us in Lumberton, North Carolina, so we figured it wouldn’t be too crowded (we currently are stationed at Fort Bragg). That was also the Denny’s we went to before one was built in Fayetteville a few years ago.

When we arrived, I let them know that we are veterans and asked about the free meals for me and my wife. The hostess politely said that she needed to check with the manager, because the promotion ended at noon and at the time, it was close to 12:30. At that point, I almost wanted to just tell her not to worry about it and that we’d just go on and pay for our food, but I didn’t. When she came back, she said that the manager let her know that it was all right for us to get our meals for free and she seated us.

Even though I still decided to take advantage of their gratitude for us and partake in eating what was offered for free (Denny’s offers a free “Build Your Own Grand Slam” for veterans today), I felt very guilty in doing so. For one, I’m just not all that about getting something for free, especially when others have to pay for it. Two, I can imagine that the manager likely felt pressured to allow us to eat for free. After all, how would it have looked if she said no? Even though neither my wife nor I would have flipped out if the manager had said no, just what went through the manager’s head when the hostess went back to ask her about us? Did she feel so much gratitude that it really wasn’t a problem? Or did she want to stick with what was promised and since we missed the time, that wasn’t her fault, so she could have easily said no?

I know that it may be hard to believe that I really felt guilty about things, considering that I still chose to eat my meal for free, but I really did and still do now, early in the evening. So many of my fellow veterans ask if I plan on eating at any of these places for free and I say no pretty much every time. Of course, they look at me as though I am crazy when I say that.

The reason I do say it is simply because I don’t feel I deserve free meals or free anything else, just because of being a veteran.

This time of year is such a humble time of year for me. I have been in the Army for more than 18 years and it truly almost brings to tears to my eyes when I see the outpouring of support for us on days like today. I never want to convey that I don’t appreciate the gratitude.

However, I don’t deserve anything. I’m the one who chose to raise my hand eighteen years ago. No one else. Also, no one made me do it.

Why do I deserve a free meal today? Why do I deserve military discounts? What did I do to deserve any of it?

I know that many believe that considering the sacrifices we make, that is certainly worthy of deserving a free meal once a year. There are a lot of Americans who are very genuinely appreciative of us and want to let us know all the time. I really and truly appreciate that kind of support and I always want to make everyone proud.

But I would rather my free meal go to anyone else. Give it to that Vietnam or any other war veteran instead of me. That homeless person. Hungry children. Anyone else. I am fairly certain that my meal would benefit someone out there in a much better manner than it would me.

I also don’t like the position many of these businesses are put in on days like today. A lot of people think of only themselves, but what about these businesses? How many truly want to give us free meals today and how many others never planned it, but feel pressured to do so? How about the threat that people may say they are “Un-American” or “unpatriotic” if they don’t let us have a meal for free today? Call me stubborn, but I never want anyone to do something for me out of pity. I never, ever want to even contemplate putting someone in the position that Denny’s manager was in earlier today. Again, this all may not seem very sincere since I still chose to eat my meal for free, but in hindsight, I certainly would have not even bothered with the free meals. I would have just paid for everything.

Some veterans out there feel entitled on other days, but especially days like today. I don’t at all. Nobody owes me anything. I understand that not everyone is fond of the military and it’s not fair for anyone to pressure people and businesses to support us. That’s the beauty of living in this country. People have the freedom to do what they want. That includes the things many of us may not care for. And no one is in the position to dictate to them how things are to be done. If a business doesn’t want to offer a free meal, that’s their choice. Everyone does not have to support the military. That’s their right not to do so and it has nothing to do with being “Un-American.” That’s called freedom of choice. They can do what they please and I respect that. I believe that we all should.

And please don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a knock at my fellow veterans who all choose to take advantage of things like this. If they are offering it, then I don’t exactly blame anyone who chooses to enjoy it. Nothing wrong with that at all. I just feel that it isn’t for me.

I know that some would tell me, “Hey, don’t worry about it, Robert! Just enjoy the free stuff!” That’s just the thing. Why do I deserve the free stuff? I wasn’t forced in any way to join the Army eighteen years ago. Not to mention, as with anything else, again, I can think of many others out there who could benefit a lot more out of a free meal than I would.

For me, the “thanks” is more than enough. It is so humbling each time I see or hear someone give us praise, support, or appreciation in any kind of way. Just to know that we haven’t been and aren’t forgotten about is truly what keeps me going each day and again, I only hope that I can make the American people proud. I don’t need “proof” of how much I’m appreciated with free meals, discounts everywhere and everything else. Just when that person walks up to me when I happen to be in uniform, or when I see a post on either of my social media pages where a person is saying “Thank You”…

…that’s good enough for me.

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