Back in high school -- more years back than I care to admit, but well after the invention of the wheel -- I enjoyed attending jazz concerts.

Jazz band, jazz ensemble or soloist; the venue didn't really matter, I just knew what sounded good to my ear.

Over time, I learned how much effort it took to rehearse a piece and appreciated the musicianship required to perform it well.

My musician friends taught me it was appropriate to shake each musician's hand at the end of the concert and share a few thoughts about the performance.

Years later, I realized the act of saying thank you forced me out of my shell, and I usually learned something cool.

Now, working for the military, I will often see someone shake the hand of a veteran to thank them for their service.

I appreciate seeing that gesture, because I have come to know more about the sacrifice that veterans pay.

Still, I find myself struggling with the view of whether or not I should stop to say thank you. Hear me out on this one.

There are several reasons why I may not approach a veteran:

1) I don't want to irritate the veteran,

2) I don't want to say something stupid, and

3) a thank you may take some time.

Let's consider the idea of not wanting to irritate a veteran. I'll use a personal example.

Earlier this year, my husband and I were on vacation, waiting in line to take a train ride through the Royal Gorge, in Cañon City, Colorado. A young girl noticed my husband's Army cap and thanked him for his service.

My husband typically responds that it was his honor to serve, and later confides in me that the words of thanks are often empty.

I can't blame him for feeling that way. The Family of that same sweet little girl who thanked my husband in line, cut us off when the conductor started collecting tickets so they could be the first aboard. That seems to happen most every time.

Yet, I attempt to convince my husband that many civilians, like me, don't really know what to say.

I don't know what war, or even boot camp was like, but I can at least say thank you.

Rather than try to figure this out on my own, I asked a vet.

I talked with Missouri's only living Medal of Honor recipient, retired Col. Don Ballard, when he attended a Vietnam War memorial ceremony Sept. 5 at Fort Leonard Wood.

I asked him what he thinks when someone says, "thank you for your service." I also told him about the experience my husband and I had on vacation.

When it comes to accepting words of appreciation, Ballard said, veterans need to think it through and perhaps mellow out a little.

"I think the veteran needs to learn that we spend all our time trying to teach people to be respectful, and if people are going to be respectful to us, then as veterans, we need to accept it," he said.

"Sometimes it's hard to take a slap on the back, and hear, 'Oh you did a good job.' We feel like we didn't do anything. We lost players, and we lost points, and we didn't win all the wars. We did the best we could."

Ballard said he thinks veterans need to have a change in attitude, if they aren't already on board.

"We're trying to teach the public to be respectful for us and of us, so let them be respectful," he said. "None of us like war, but if we're going to send our kids, our new leaders off to war, then we better respect them and treat them right when they come home."

As far as worrying about looking stupid, Ballard indicated he looks for sincerity more than IQ.

"It's all about attitude," the former Navy officer said. "If people are sincere and really wanting to thank me for my service, then I thank them for thanking me. But if they are just saying it to be polite, or pacify me, I can sense that."

Finally, when you take time out to thank a veteran, they may actually return the favor by talking to you about their experience. So, if you decide to say thanks, don't be in such a rush. This is where sincerity comes into play. Veterans may opt to enlighten you about what it took for them to make it home, or they may have wisdom to impart (usually for your benefit, not theirs).

Thanking a veteran for their military service is certainly different than thanking a jazz musician, but finding your voice to show respect is the same.

I will say thank you. What will you do?