I don’t have any military experience and believe I would have made a really bad soldier, but as I think about the sacrifices and service by our military through the centuries, certain images and ideas wash over me, along with feelings of gratitude and appreciation.
I found out recently that a distant ancestor was a captain in the Virginia militia and fought with George Rogers Clark in the Northwest Campaign during the Revolution. Another couple of ancestors were with the Georgia Militia during the Civil War. My paternal grandfather registered for the draft in World War I—I was able to see an image of his draft registration during an online search. My father joined the Army during World War II even though he wasn’t old enough, and was posted to the China/Burma/India Theater. My uncle was in Korea where he won a Distinguished Service Medal. My brother was first in the Army and then the Air Force. He was a fighter pilot, served with the Reserve on C-130's to build multi-engine time and had a 27-year career as a pilot for Delta Airlines.
I missed serving in Viet Nam because of a high draft number, but know dozens of people who did serve and knew some who were killed. Most recently a fine young fellow from our church joined the Marines and served two tours in Afghanistan. During the first deployment, he was shot through both lungs and would have died but for the quick action of a Navy corpsman and the incredible battle injury care system that had him back at Bethesda Hospital within a week. He recovered to return for a second term and is now at Quantico with his wife and infant daughter. It’s a pleasure and a thrill to see them at church.
Living in this area, we have a strong military presence, people at the Pentagon and Quantico and the Navy Yard, to name a few and leave out many. There people are our friends and neighbors, and the life they have chosen is one of hardship and sacrifice. The Gulf Wars and the War on Terror (which brought it home to the Pentagon and to all of us) should make us aware of the work that the military does, even, ironically, the work that we are not aware of.
Of course, we have had troop deployments to Iraq and still have them in Afghanistan. Families have been separated and thousands of relatives and loved one have stood by graves and received the folded flag. We should never forget all those who had made this ultimate sacrifice.
There are two groups of our military I would like to give special recognition to (although all who served are special) and those groups are the World War II vets and the veterans of the Cold War, which ran from 1945 to 1986.
The vets of World War II are now in their 80’s. My father, who joined as an underaged farm boy, is now 87, but he remembers every detail of his service. I hope anyone who is around a World War II vet would take the time to talk with them about their experiences and to thank them for what they did. I would include those on the home front who also “served and waited.” I think if you do spend time with these folks you will hear some amazing stories. These people are leaving us at the rate of 700 a day and so, the time to listen to them and to thank them is now.
The other group is those who served in the Cold War. They do not have a memorial, but they sacrificed their lives whether literally or one day at a time in often lonely and difficult posts. I talked with one Air Force pilot who flew Sabre jets off the coast of Korea. He said they all knew if something started, they would be the first to go. That’s sacrificial service. Other troops worked in intelligence, a work which continues today to keep us all safe. I know several people who don’t say much about the work they do, which is a sure indication that they are involved in intelligence.
Tom Paxton wrote a song about the 9/11 first responders in which he noted that when everyone else ran away from danger, they ran toward it. The same is true of our service men and women. They run toward danger so the rest of us didn’t have to.
Veterans’ Day was yesterday, and I hope you made it an occasion to thank veterans, to talk with them, to take them out for a meal. That would be a small repayment for a huge service done so well for all of us.