In the spirit of remembering the contributions of our military personnel today, I'd like recognize a few groups who do not necessarily fit into the traditional scope of Memorial Day:
Our soldiers killed fighting for causes that were not as noble as freedom, democracy, or defending the country. Thanking "those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom" is more palatable, but I'd also like to thank those who did their duty when the cause was lost, unjust, or a global game of "Chicken" to prove which world leader would not back down first.
The men who never wanted to go to war in the first place, but who, through the luck of the draw, found themselves turned into soldiers. Thanks to both you who came back and the ones who did not.
And one group in particular: those who went to war and came home without wanting recognition of the service and sacrifices they had made. They would generally be honored on Veteran's Day, but since they seem bent on eschewing the title of Veteran, that hardly seems appropriate. They raised families far away from the VFW halls, and if they have since passed, are buried alongside their families in civilian cemeteries, and only afterward does someone find a box of medals and commendations in the back of a closet. They've done heroic deeds and witnessed things no one should ever have to see, and ask in return only the chance to be able to live their lives like any other person.
My grandpa belongs to that last class of people. He served in the Navy, came home, married my grandma, worked several jobs to raise five children, and has been a model grandpa for 10 grandchildren and an ever-expanding brood of great-grandchildren [note: still none from our end]. To this day, I don't even know what rank he held; only that he was a cook on a ship in the Pacific, though I have an inkling that there was a bit more to it than that. We knew he had been in the Navy in the exact same way we knew he had been a school custodian and packed loaves of bread at a bakery. He never made it seem like his time in the service defined his identity any more than any of those other jobs, hence there never seemed like an appropriate time to say thanks. For that matter, it's hard to know if "thank you" is even an appropriate sentiment.