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Not long ago, I wrote a column proposing that we should thank all teachers for their service, just as we thank all military personnel for their service. Many readers responded to that column, almost overwhelmingly with gratitude and support, and many passed it on for others to read, as I hoped they would. But not all readers felt that way about it.

One regular reader of this column, Dave C, felt that “thanks for your service” should be “exclusively reserved for current or former members of our military service.” He felt that thanking teachers in the same way would “diminish its meaning.”

I wanted to share Dave’s thoughts with you, because if anyone has earned his right to an opinion on the subject, he has — far more fully than I have.

Like me, Dave taught high school for 35 years before retiring, so he has earned every right to speak on issues concerning teachers. But unlike me, Dave also served in the military during the Vietnam era. Though I was drafted into the army, my induction was canceled when the war came to an end and hundreds of thousands of servicemembers were brought home to crowded military camps. And so I wanted to let him speak to you today though my column, even though he disagrees with me on several points — and even though I still disagree with him on others.

Dave writes: “I believe you’re missing the point of the ‘thank you for your service’ remark which is thus far rather exclusively reserved for current or former members of our military service. When we use this now rather (sadly) cliched remark, we are actually thanking that individual for their sacrifice of time and effort (and, yes, in some cases true bravery) to us all in defense of our national well-being: i.e., their service to the ideal of these United States. These are people who volunteer to possibly sacrifice their lives for the rest of us in combat. They are willing warriors in our defense in a hostile world. Teachers who die in their classrooms are victims of atrocious acts of terror, just as are the students who are murdered in school. There is, I believe, a world of difference between the two unfortunate situations.”

I would not disagree with anything Dave says in that paragraph. He is right — our military personnel are “willing warriors,” while murdered teachers and students are “victims.” There is a difference, even if the end result is the same. Our military personnel see danger ahead, and they walk straight towards it. That takes a special kind of courage, and it deserves a special kind of thanks.

But Dave goes on to say: “Whether you intend it or not, to use the phrase ‘thank you for your service’ to show appreciation to public servants other than our military dilutes the message.”

And here I must respectfully disagree with him. When I thank teachers for their service, I don’t feel that I must spill a bit of thanks from a soldier’s cup in order to splash some into the teacher’s cup, leaving them both only half full. No, there is a wellspring of gratitude from which I fill a cup brimful for a soldier, and there is plenty left in that well to fill a teacher’s cup. And a fireman’s cup, and a policeman’s cup, for that matter, and many others.

After all, does your love for your mother diminish when you say “I love you” to your spouse, using the same phrase you would say to mom? Is your spouse diminished when you love your child? Is your family diminished when you love your best friend?

If not, then why can’t it be the same way with our gratitude for public servants in the military, schools, firehouse and police station, and why can’t we use the identical phrase: “Thank you for your service?”

Some might argue that the military are more vital than teachers, because we would have no nation without our military.

But it might equally be argued that — without education — we would have no nation worth having.

Is one more important than the other? After all, if we skimp on defense, we risk conflict at home. But if we skimp on education, we don’t just risk conflict at home — we ignite it, and we fan it into a blaze.

Thankfully, we don’t have to choose one over the other. Thankfully, we can have both defenders and educators at the same time. And thankfully, we can thank them all equally if we feel thanks in our hearts.

But you’ve heard enough from me. I said I wanted you to hear what Dave had to say, so I’ll step aside and let him have the last word.

Dave writes: “When I was an enlisted man in the military, I was poorly paid, lived in a WWII barracks for two years with only a bunk, a wall locker, and a foot locker to call my ‘own’ (even those were owned by the govt.). I did not go home to a wife and children each night, I could not leave base without permission, and was subject to transport to a combat zone at any time.  It was a much different experience to teaching in a high school, being relatively well paid, and going home to my spouse and a home every night and knowing I would go to work in relative safety for the remainder of the school year.

“I was proud to serve my country and proud to be a teacher. I never expected any ‘thanks’ for either job.  While I have thanked a small number of teachers of my children, I would thank anyone I see in uniform and buy them a drink because they are sacrificing for all of us every day they are in our service.

“Thanks for listening.”

More: The View From Planet Kerth: Tracing the ‘enemy of the people’ to its true source

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More: The View From Planet Kerth: Another chance to say ‘Thank you for your service’

The author splits his time between Southwest Florida and Chicago. Not every day, though. Contact him at trkerth@yahoo.com. Why wait a whole week for your next visit to Planet Kerth? Get T.R.'s book, 'Revenge of the Sardines,' available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine online book distributors.

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