Many veterans struggle with how to respond to “thank you for your service” since “you’re welcome” seems arrogant. But plenty of veterans of the war in Afghanistan had an even tougher time this last Veterans Day because so much of the service for which people thanked us, our hard work and sacrifice in Afghanistan, has been deliberately and completely laid to waste by President Joe Biden’s mindless and heartless abandonment of Afghanistan. It hurt to hear my Afghan friend and Enduring Freedom novel co-author Jawad Arash trapped in a new Taliban nightmare, saying, “My family and I will never forget what all the American veterans have done for us.”

I was feeling down. Then inspiration struck. I called my friend, retired Marine Col. Rick Brown, and said, “It’s Veterans Day. Let’s go get some free stuff.”

Every Veterans Day offers veterans a bevy of discounts and free items: free coffee at Starbucks. Free meals at Golden Corral and Chili’s. The zoo in Columbus, Ohio, welcomes veterans and their families gratis. In the past, I’ve been reluctant to claim many of these free offerings, worried I was somehow exploiting my veteran status. This year, after Biden betrayed everything my fellow soldiers and I struggled for, I had no hesitation.

Rick wore his Marines hat. I wore my 834th Engineer Company hat. After an invigorating free Starbucks coffee, we reached Denny’s at 1050 hours and soon realized we were not alone on our quest for free treats — lots of Army and Air Force hats. A Vietnam veteran wore a kilt and high socks with green bows. A T-shirt bore a message Biden should have seen: "'No Man Left Behind’ Means Something To The Rest Of Us." Korea. Vietnam. Desert Storm. Iraq. Afghanistan. A broad range of military service veterans crowded into the Denny’s for free and delicious Grand Slam breakfasts. Rick enjoyed scrambled eggs and toast. I had bacon on English muffins.

By 1228, we reached an equally veteran-crowded Buffalo Wild Wings. There I faced the tough choice of free succulent spicy garlic or parmesan garlic wings. I went with the delish parm-gar. The food arrived at 1335, and by then, the cold beers, which were not free, made it clear that Rick and I would be lucky to break even that day.

A married couple, both Vietnam War veterans, sat at a nearby table. Old Veterans Day professionals, they’d already made four stops for free food. Rick and I were impressed.

Next, we took a break from food at the Spokane Flatstick Pub for spectacular craft beer and miniature golf. Our two games were a free veteran courtesy. Rick destroyed me in both.

We reached Red Robin by 1630. A free tasty tavern double burger and bottomless fries? Here again, the veterans’ love for beer diminished the FREE to “free.” But Rick and I enjoyed our feast and had a good time telling old war stories.

By 1717, we rolled out for Olive Garden. At Olive Garden, you’re family — except on Veterans Day at the Spokane Olive Garden, it’s more like generations of the massive military family showing up for homestyle pasta all at the same time. The wait would be over an hour. Normally, the freshly baked garlic breadsticks would be worth the wait, but we’d already eaten a lot, so Rick and I moved on.

We closed out the night with one more round at Inland Ale Works in Cheney, Washington. There were no veteran bonuses save for talking and laughing with a great bartender and my excellent friend.

This is a silly story of free wings, burgers, breakfasts, and fries. But these are miserable times, particularly for many veterans. And thanks to some wonderful American companies and the warm gratitude of the people, a little bit of silliness really helped out this last Veterans Day.

*Regrettably, the author received no compensation for the various products mentioned throughout this column.

*Some names and call signs in this story may have been changed due to operational security or privacy concerns. Trent Reedy served as a combat engineer in the Iowa National Guard from 1999 to 2005, including a tour of duty in Afghanistan.