First a disclaimer: I never served a day in the armed forces. I participated in ROTC for a couple of quarters at Ohio State, but once I fulfilled the requirement, got out. It was the Vietnam era. The military wasn’t “cool,” at least on college campuses during the late 1960s.
But my father served in the Army – more than 22 years, in fact. He fought in infantry and armored divisions during World War II, in Europe and Northern Africa. He was wounded twice, receiving two Purple Hearts to prove it, along with other commendations.
When the Vietnam War was just escalating, before hardly anyone even knew where Vietnam was, he retired from the Army. Having inside information about what was happening over there, realizing it was a virtual no-win situation, he said, “I’m not going back for a third bullet.”
My dad wasn’t a coward. He had served nobly and sacrificially in “the big war.” Thankfully he survived physically, although nightmares that occasionally awakened him at night, screaming, indicated his psyche did not return from conflict 100 % intact.
So this Memorial Day I don’t have memories of camaraderie, friendships forged in the clutches of combat. But my father did, and I’m forever grateful for his and others’ courageous dedication and service, serving the USA, its freedom and values against foes overseas.
Sadly, we still have soldiers – men and women – fighting in conflicts overseas. Thousands have lost their lives in the Middle East, giving their all to protect our nation and its people from a repeat of terrorist acts that etched 9/11 deeply in our memories.
Growing up, the John Wayne movies made war look heroic, even fun. I suspect films like “Saving Private Ryan” hit much closer to the realities and horrors of war. So I’m even more thankful for those who have died for America, as well as for those who have suffered injuries to the body, mind and spirit. May we never forget!
I’m even more thankful for the true “ultimate gift”: the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ who, like the soldiers we remember this weekend, died so we could win a war. Except the war He fought was not against ideologies, but against the very source of evil – something the Bible calls “sin.” “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Knowing the sacrifice He was about to make, Jesus told His followers, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Since the birth of our nation, countless thousands have laid down their lives for “friends” – men, women and children that would enjoy freedom in this life. Jesus died that we might experience spiritual freedom, not only in this life, but also in the life to come.