Last month our family flew to San Diego to see our son, Michael, graduate from Marine boot camp.

After the ceremony and celebration, we drove back to the airport talking about the next two weeks we’d spend with him on leave. At the rental car return, I noticed a clerk eyeing my son in his razor-creased uniform and I offered an unsolicited explanation.

“We’re here in San Diego to pick up our freshly minted Marine.” He smiled and offered his congratulations.

As we walked away, my son cautioned me, “Dad, not everyone likes us. Some people hate us.”

I countered that assumption by telling him not everyone was in favor of the war, but we were all in favor of our troops.

I reminded him his oldest sister is a good example of that. She is not a fan of the current leadership. She has marched in her share of demonstrations and worn anti-Bush T-shirts with words not repeatable by this reservist in a spiritual column.

Yet, she’s a fan of her brother. At the graduation, she cheered and hollered until she lost her voice. She hugged and kissed him until she turned him beat red from embarrassment and risked violating the regulation against PDA (Public Display of Affection.)

He nodded hesitantly at his sister’s example, and proceeded with some reticence to the shuttle stop. As we stood at the stop, three women lined up along side us whispering.

Then one woman broke out to speak to Michael. “Thank you for your service,” she said. My son gave away a shy smile.

“Do you mind if we pray with you?” she asked. Mike nodded and the woman began to pray. She prayed that God would lay a protection around him and that he would serve with honor.

Forty-five minutes later, we were at our gate when a man bolted out of his chair like he’d been sprung from it. He approached Mike with an open hand explaining that he was a retired Air Force major. Then he said, as the others had said before him, “Thank you for your service.”

The next few hours passed quickly and in no time at all we taxied into our home terminal. As the jetway was extended, the flight attendant made an announcement. “Ladies and gentleman, I want you to know that we have a new Marine on board who graduated from boot camp today!”

Spontaneously, the passengers erupted into the type of applause usually reserved for the touchy landings.

As I reflected on those we’d encountered, it occurred to me all of them likely had opinions about the war, but each had kept their opinions separate from their gratitude.

And from a soldier’s point of view, let me tell you why that’s good.

Every soldier is sworn to obey the orders of their superiors. That means, even if a soldier has a dissenting opinion, he can’t express it — especially not in uniform. So as the saying goes, “Don’t even go there.”

Let me tell you, however, where you can go. You can say thank you. You can tell a soldier, especially the young ones, “Thank you. Thank you for being a part of the largest volunteer force we’ve ever had to wage. Thank you for making it possible for some to work, some to pray, and yes, even some to protest.”

So as we approach the next two holidays, Memorial Day and Independence Day, stop a soldier, any soldier, and simply say, “Thank you for serving.”

Why say thank you? I believe the answer to that question was best expressed on a T-shirt worn by a parent at my son’s graduation: “Sleep well, America, my son’s got your back!”