"Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
Friday was Veteran’s Day… a day set aside to honor and esteem those who have served in the military in order to uphold the values we cherish and keep us safe and protected. Memorial Day is differentiated from Veterans Day by the loss of life during conflict. Veterans Day, originally called Armistice Day, is officially on November 11 of every year in recognition of the armistice between Germany and the allied forces of World War I: on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Although this is when the fighting ceased, the war was not officially ended until the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919.
Veterans Day is about recognizing and celebrating heroism and sacrifice. Philippians 2:3-4 provides this perspective: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” To face adversity on behalf of someone else is heroism. To look beyond our own interests, our own tribulations, and seek to aid in someone else’s challenge is sacrifice.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to face it. Today’s young men and women who serve this country in the military are courageous. They know that someday, sooner or later, they could face conflict. Each is willing to put their life on the line; each is willing to defend our nation by paying the fullest measure of devotion. This attitude embodies heroism and sacrifice.
Just as the vets from all the former conflicts, the young men and women who serve today have chosen to go to war so that you and I can have the freedom to come to church today. I value this willingness and courage, and as I have grown older, I have come to appreciate more the courage it takes for a person to step forward and volunteer to serve the nation.
When I was a young man, the Vietnam War was in full rage. We did not have a totally volunteer army in those days; people were also drafted. When more recruits were required, we were assigned a number and we waited for our number to be called. This was called the Lottery. My number was never called, so I was fortunate and was able to finish school and begin my life as an adult.
But I had friends who were drafted, and whose lives were put on hold, and some whose lives were never the same after they returned home to an unappreciative country. Some of these returning veterans, some of whom were my friends, were called names and shown disdain.
I never really understood why this was so, why people would blame the soldiers for doing their duty, for following their commander’s orders, and implementing the plans that the leaders of our nation created. The contempt that was served up to these returning soldiers helped form my attitudes about life.
I often reflected on those times as I grew older and knew that it was just luck, or the Grace of God, that I was not one of those young men. Regardless, it made me more appreciative of the sacrifice that the military men and women must make in order to secure our liberties.
As I grow older still, my appreciation only increases. I see more clearly the necessity for a military. As much as I envision and pray for world peace, we are not yet ready as a species to claim our oneness. We are not yet ready to spread love and tolerance to the people of our own nation, least of all the entire globe.
There are still factions, both domestic and foreign, that adhere to an aggressively tribal philosophy. Groups intend harm on other groups that think differently. They hide from the Christ within that expresses as love and unity. Until these lower urges are controlled, laws and systems must remain in place to protect those who are willing to live peacefully as a nation and as residents of earth.
Today, as it has been for many years now, we have an all-volunteer military, and the stresses and considerations for becoming part of the military are even greater than in my day. When I was a young man, we had no choice. Today, it takes profound courage to leave our loved ones, our family, our children, and the established life to join the armed forces. John 15:13 states, ‘Greater love has no one than this – that he lay down his life for his friends.’ These good folks are heroes, all of them – for the willingness to pay the greatest price they can offer.
This nation has grown since the Vietnam era: we appreciate our soldiers more today. But we have a long ways to go. Up to 20% of the returning veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, not just because of what they experience in war but because of the isolated and disconnected society they come home to. They no longer have the bond, or sense of connection and closeness, that they had with their comrades. Returning to a life of individualism and loneliness that Western society embraces makes it more difficult to recover from the traumas of war. PTSD has always been a possible side effect of war, or any other traumatic experience, and it doesn’t make someone any less capable or worthy than someone without it.
In addition to psychological adjustments, veterans confront issues that we don’t always understand; they face the challenge of entering the workforce and finding a job; reinserting themselves into a family, creating structure appropriate to this new environment, adjusting to the overwhelming choices of necessities such as food, clothing, and free time. They must learn to find doctors, dentists, life insurance, and adjust to an entirely different pace of life. We cannot understand the veteran’s perspective until we have tried to see life through their eyes.
We thank God for people like Bruce and the local VA branches that aid veterans in this transition and the challenges they face after returning, which include continuing prejudices and unrealistic expectations. We don’t always understand that they have lived for these years as part of a team, a family, a close ensemble trusted for their very lives. They looked upon the members of their squad and platoon with respect and dignity, and relied on each other to work together for the safety and survival of all.
Even bees have an innate ability to work together for the whole. On a warm day about half the bees in a hive stay inside beating their wings while the other half go out to gather pollen and nectar. Because of the beating wings, the temperature inside the hive is about 10 degrees cooler than outside. The bees rotate duties and the bees that cool the hive one day are honey gatherers the next.
This is another of the lessons that veterans can teach us: to count on each other, to trust each other, and work together. It’s not all about individualistic efforts. I truly see this nation as a team, and we each have our part to play. Whether we are looking at ourselves as a family, a community, as a State, as a Nation, or as a world unit – we are in this together. The military has its purpose as peacekeepers and protectors, and we can express our appreciation and support. No group of people are more cognizant of the power of a team and unity than are our veterans.
Veterans are a subset of our population consisting of 18.5 million members, and are just as diverse in gender, racial and religious backgrounds, political and personal beliefs, opinions, and lived experience. Around 10% of our veterans are women, 12.3% are Black, 8.2% are Hispanic or Latino, 1.9% are Asian, and 0.2% are Native American or Alaskan Native. Not every veteran is a hardened combat vet. A 2019 survey found that 40% of the veterans were never deployed during their service. Deployed or not, they are veterans to be honored because they were willing to serve in whatever capacity.
Also, some vets do not feel comfortable being thanked for their service. I had a friend whose service included serving a General on a ship that never saw combat. He said it was a cushy experience and does not feel it was necessary to be thanked; he actually feels embarrassed. Regardless, he is honored in my mind because his deployment could have changed at any time.
As a member of this nation, we can support our veterans and help build a community that is accepting, welcoming, and appreciative. This philosophy of life can apply to all subsets of humanity. Regardless of our religion, political disposition, race, social status, gender orientation, or military status, Christ is ready to express through us as harmony, oneness, love, joy, and peace. Our challenge as human beings is to let go of our smallness and division – release our limited, fearful, tribal feelings and thoughts.
We are all in this together, and we each have a part to play. I pray that each of us can live a life of working together no matter our role. I pray that we live a life that is strong and of good courage, in order to resist our lower urges of hatred and disrespect. I pray that we live a life that acknowledges God and expresses heroism and self-sacrifice in every situation.
As we reflect on Veterans Day, let us give thanks for our military veterans, thanking God for their courage, sacrifice, dedication, and service to country. Let us pray for those who struggle with disabilities and pain, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, and ask God to bring powerful healing and renewal. Let us pray for the families of these individuals and pray that each one will know the gratitude of a thankful and united nation.