Mike Rowe honors veterans by 'Returning the Favor': ‘Every good and decent thing we enjoy was paid in blood’

Honoring heroes of America this Veterans Day

‘Fox & Friends First’ panel shares their messages on Veterans Day.

EXCLUSIVE: When it comes to honoring our unsung heroes, Mike Rowe is determined to return the favor.

To commemorate Veterans Day, the former “Dirty Jobs” star is releasing a special episode of his Facebook Watch Show “Returning the Favor,” where he travels the country to highlight remarkable people making a difference in their communities. 

“Like a lot of people I spent a lot of my life taking veterans for granted – out of sight, out of mind,” the Emmy-winning TV host told Fox News. “Sure, I was grateful. I knew they were risking their lives for me. But when you don’t see it day after day, you become disconnected from it… And if you don’t see it, it’s not on the top of your mind.”

“As I started doing ‘Dirty Jobs,’ we began to feature more and more veterans on the show,” the 58-year-old continued. “Somebody’s got to do it. I was reminded every time that they are the tip of the spear. Every freedom I have, every nice thing I enjoy is made possible by a veteran. So when it came time to film ‘Returning the Favor,’ I was at a point in my career where we were able to specifically focus on the people that are most important to me. Well, the vets are right on top.”

In the latest episode, Rowe virtually visits Maine due to the coronavirus pandemic and surprises Dan Waite, founder of Operation ReBoot Outdoors. The nonprofit organization aims to improve the lives of veterans suffering from PTSD or other traumas by connecting with nature.

Operation ReBoot Outdoors also offers hunting and fishing trips to veterans at no cost, as well as other recreational activities involving the wilderness.

Many honorees, including Waite, are selected from the official Facebook group for the series. Members can nominate a local leader and former honorees can share their success stories.

So far, “Returning the Favor” has recognized and awarded 13 organizations dedicated to improving the lives of veterans. Rowe refers to them as “the ultimate first responders.”

Mike Rowe of ‘Dirty Jobs’ fame has been filming ‘Returning the Favor’ since 2017.
(Getty)

“Dan didn’t start [his organization] to help other people – he was trying to save his own life,” Rowe explained. “He was up against the wall. He was not succeeding. He was not assimilating properly when he returned home. So, he went into the woods and lived off the land. He hunted, fished and reconnected with nature. It had a huge impact on him. As a result, he began to invite other veterans to come on these adventures with him. The results were somewhere between therapeutic and miraculous.”

Rowe is hoping the episode will encourage viewers to continue remembering those who defend our country long after Veterans Day is over.

“We take so many of our freedoms for granted,” said Rowe. “The Bill of Rights, every freedom in the Constitution, the freedom to move around freely. Every good and decent thing we enjoy was paid in blood by men and women who put on a uniform and then went away.”

“We’ve abandoned them,” Rowe shared. “That might be too strong of a word, but we haven’t stepped up to do what we can to help them reassemble. We haven’t put them at the front of the line to get them the help and opportunities they need once they come home. We have a duty ourselves to return the favor. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the years. We take things for granted. It is a very human thing to do. But unfortunately, the men and women who wear the uniform are among the things we take for granted.”

So far, ‘Returning the Favor’ has recognized and awarded 13 organizations dedicated to improving the lives of veterans. Mike Rowe refers to them as ‘the ultimate first responders.’
(Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

Rowe is aware that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for Americans to actively take part in local organizations aiming to help veterans. However, he insisted that a simple “thank you” always goes a long way.

“I think a lot of people who are grateful to our men and women in uniform don’t express their gratitude because they’re not quite sure how to do it,” he said. “They don’t want to overstep or overreach. They don’t want to make people uncomfortable. But I’ve never met a veteran – man or woman – who didn’t appreciate a stranger coming up to them and just saying, ‘Thank you. I really appreciate what you have done on my behalf.’”

Rowe suggested some simple gestures anyone can do at any time of the year.

“Buy him or her a beer, pick up a tab,” he said. “Just at a restaurant alone, there are a lot of very simple ways to say thank you. Anyone can acknowledge a veteran – that’s not headline news… But there is a very real problem that exists, one that’s plaguing the veteran community. The suicide rates are scandalous and PTSD is very real. Taking the time just to say thank you alone can make a huge impact on someone’s life.”

“Returning the Favor” airs every Tuesday on Facebook Watch.

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