On this Veterans Day / Remembrance Day weekend, I want to express my gratitude to all veterans and their families. Thank you for your service and sacrifice. And I express this appreciation not only to veterans of the armed forces of the United States, but also to veterans of the many other nations with whom we have worked in the cause of peace.
Some of you are fresh from Iraq, Afghanistan or some other hot spot of the 21st Century. Others served in earlier conflicts, but the memories are still just as real as they were years ago.
A few years ago, I conducted the funeral of an aviator who died in a crash on a Pacific island at the end of World War II. It took 58 years for his remains to come home. I realized that he was the same age and served in the same theater as my father-in-law who returned to Georgia, married, started a family, entered upon a vocation, and enjoyed the fruit of the liberty that he helped save.
There is a great price that we pay for the liberties that we enjoy, and it’s not just those who don’t come home who pay that price. Some come home without limbs. Some come home with wounds that can’t be seen. If you talk to those who went, it won’t take long before you hear the cost of war. War is scary, lonely, hot, dirty, tiring, and disturbing on so many levels. It takes a terrible toll on families. It has a way of changing the direction of life’s journeys.
This 2005 Veterans Day article by Jonathan Darman (Newsweek, November 15, 2005) contains a lot of truth.
Old soldiers have always led America. They’ve shown us how to love our country, revere our military and honor our war dead. More softly, they’ve warned of the dangers of wishing for war. “It is well that war is so terrible,” said Robert E. Lee, or else “we should grow too fond of it,” and soldiers have echoed him from Antietam to Iraq. Now, as we celebrate another Veterans Day, we welcome home a new generation of soldiers. If history is a guide, only a few of these new veterans will join antiwar movements; most will proudly support their country in any future entanglements it may face. But many of those returning from Afghanistan and Iraq will doubtless join a tradition of brave veterans who quietly hate war. They can teach us why war is never romantic, but may sometimes be worth fighting all the same.
Darman reminds his readers of an 1880 speech, in which Civil War General W. T. Sherman told a group of military school cadets, “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.” The price of war is measured not just in the graves of those who die in battle, but also in the memories and changed lives of those who return.
During the last ten years, I’ve talked with the friends and family of several who have died in the uniform of their country. It’s amazing how many of them quote this verse to me: Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 NASB)
Many of those who have fallen have seen their lives this way, as a gift to the people of this nation and the world. It seems to me that this is what all veterans have done. They have laid their lives on the line – sacrificing the companionship of loved ones, the comforts of home, enduring great hardship and danger. They paid this great price as a gift of love to us.
Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coasties will continue to give us the gift of their service. As the recipients of that gift, we have the responsibility before God to use that precious gift wisely.
May God bless all those who have served in our nation’s uniform, and may the memory of those who have gone to their rest never be forgotten. May God bless our nation, and all the nations of this world, and grant us the peace, freedom and justice that we seek.
Observing Veterans Day