Nov. 11 is Veterans Day in the United States. It’s a day that offers an opportunity to pay special tribute to the men and women who have served in the military services. If you know of someone who has served in uniform, or perhaps is serving now, this is a great time to acknowledge their service and say thank you to them.
Reflecting back on my own service in Vietnam, I suspect I was like a lot of soldiers in some respects. I didn’t want to leave my family, I didn’t want to risk getting hurt or killed, but I did want to serve my country. In other respects I was different. I was a chaplain, which meant I was a noncombatant. I didn’t bear arms. My purpose in being there was not to harm anyone, but to offer spiritual ministry to everyone around me, especially to the members of my unit.
Even though it was difficult for any of us to gain much of a military perspective on why we were there or what we were actually accomplishing, what I understood very early in my tour of duty was that the real war was not with the North Vietnamese or the Viet Cong. The real war was with the belief that injustice, domination, hatred, lust, self-gratification, and every form of evil imaginable could overcome integrity, justice, respect, kindness, moral courage, and unselfed love. The real enemy was the belief that being separated from all we held to be good and decent back home could dehumanize us by putting us in a place where selfishness and fear were prevalent – that we could be made to forget our true nature as sons and daughters of God.
The biggest lesson I learned during that tour was that the only way to defeat the enemy was by demonstrating the moral courage to live according to the standards we were raised with. There is nothing more important in this world than having the conviction that what we are doing with our lives counts, that it has meaning, that we have been able to make the world a better place. In her textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” the founder of the Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, writes, “[B]lessed is that man who seeth his brother’s need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another’s good” (p. 518). Succeeding in this effort requires sacrifice. The realization of what constitutes this sacrifice has been etched in my heart.
The Master, Christ Jesus, said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And this is exactly what so many have done over countless generations since the birth of our nation, including the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was an honor to minister to such individuals.
I saw so many men and women leaving behind the peace and security of homes, families, and jobs in order to serve their country, placing a sense of duty and what they understood to be the welfare of a nation and a free world above their own comfort and safety. And these noble ambitions didn’t apply just to the soldiers themselves. I also recognized that these same pure desires helped the families left behind to endure, doing their best to uphold the same standards. It made me think that perhaps this is the essence of what is meant by “keeping the home fires burning.”
Those who find themselves serving in places where they are being called upon to defend others from aggression, hatred, and all the destructive forces of evil, are being motivated by the purest of desires, sacrificing their own well-being to serve and bless their fellow man. This motivation certainly includes our military veterans. But doesn’t it also represent virtually anyone who is striving to achieve the same noble ambition in their own lives, whether they’ve served in uniform or not? In a very real way, isn’t anyone striving to live this kind of life, military or civilian, also a “veteran” who deserves our deepest respect and gratitude? So, thank you, veterans, military and civilian, for the sacrifices you have made – sacrifices that are making a difference in the world, defending the rights of everyone to live in peace and harmony.