Today, Wednesday, November 11, is officially Veteran's Day. It's often largely overlooked by the majority of Americans even though we continue to have body bags offloaded at Dover Air Force Base where President Obama stood vigil one recent early morning. They are mostly young men and women cut down in the prime of life by the bullets and shrapnel of a myriad of weapons and explosive devices some of which were made in our own country. There are precious few decades that pass without the horror of war intruding itself into the lives of our soldiers, sailors, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard personnel. Of course they are trained for the eventuality of armed conflict but it is still incredibly painful when your loved one is brought back home having lost the right to continue a life once begun with such great hope and joy.
Then there are those who do return alive but are scarred for life either psychologically, emotionally, or physically. War is not literally hell but it's probably as close to it as we can come on this planet. While I was on active duty for Desert Shield and then Desert Storm I was prepared to visit families to "officially" inform them that they would never see their loved one again except in a casket. Of course, you don't actually say those words but it is still the bottom line reality of what you are communicating to those who will begin a long process of profound grief. Mercifully, the Lord protected our troops in Kuwait and then in Iraq as we had less casualties than we normally do for a major training exercise so I never had to ring anyone's doorbell with that terrible notification of death but other chaplains did and the anguished cries of that wife or husband or parent can probably still be heard in the mind of that military pastor.
Too often the statistics are just numbers to us, mentioned by the news commentator and then quickly forgotten. But behind every, single one of those numbers is a human being who loved and was loved, who had dreams and plans, who was a son, daughter, spouse, or parent to other people who loved them as much as we love our families. The pain of loss is acute and we must never desecrate their sacrifice for us by forgetting the veterans who gave their last ounce of devotion. Nor should we fail to acknowledge and give thanks for millions of veterans who did return having served our nation regardless of whether it was a time of peace or a season of conflict. Each one did his or her part in keeping us free from tyranny and oppression and each one is owed a deep debt of gratitude.
So, on this Veteran's Day, be grateful for the freedoms you enjoy but remember that it cost an incalculable sacrifice made by others on our behalf in order to protect those freedoms we cherish and too often take for granted. May the Lord our God bless and protect our veterans.
But I would be remiss if I did not mention the greatest sacrifice ever made on behalf of undeserving people like us. It was a sacrifice of death that set us free from the oppressiveness of our sin and rebellion against God. A sacrifice made by the God of all glory in the crucifixion of His only begotten Son. Jesus is the ultimate "freedom fighter" and no higher price has ever or will ever be paid then that which He made on Calvary's brow two-thousand years ago. He was truly an army of one and defeated the greatest enemy the world has ever known and did so decisively and forever. Praise be His name.
On this Veteran's Day, take a moment to look in the eye of a vet and thank him or her. Then look beyond - to the Cross where spiritual death was destroyed in the death of our Savior. To Him be given all the glory both now and forever.
In gratefulness to all of you and so many other veterans,
Former U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain (CPT) Federalized by order of the President, 9 September 1990 - 7 July 1991.