I don’t know how or why but my grandfather did not serve in WWI (the other one was already deceased) and my Dad was exempt from the draft in WWII as an ‘essential business’ owner/operator in his small town. I did not serve in the Viet Nam era because I had a deferment as a student in a theological seminary through 1966.
Yes, I was one of those clergy who opposed the war in Viet Nam. I did not look down upon returning veterans though. I have a distinct memory of the Marine Lance Corporal, whose family I did not know but whose funeral director contacted me to preside over the Lance Corporal’s burial in Cincinnati in 1968. As I remember it, the military casket included a ‘glass’ covering over the uniformed body. I rather suspected, at the time, that little more than the Corporal’s head, neck and a part of his torso was shipped home for burial. To me he was anonymous as I met his family first at the funeral home a day before the interment. I did the best I knew how, to acquaint myself with the hopes and dreams he took with him in to USMC service. As with all the funerals I conducted, as a very free-thinking, yes, I’ll use the “L” word, liberal clergy-person of the 60s, I issued him complimentary ticket into the Kingdom. I did not think that his service afforded him that entitlement, I believed then, and still would so profess, were I still a professing Christian, that eternal life was the absolutely free gift of an entirely gracious divinity.
I well remember that at each Veterans Day weekend throughout my 40+ year career as a pastor, even though I considered myself a pacifist, I invited Veterans of all our military services to be recognized in the Sunday worship. When asked by the community group planning the annual Memorial Day Parade event at the local cemetery, I agreed to offer one of the prayers or, on a couple of occasions, to be the event’s speaker.
So please, do not talk to me as though, even as one who never served our nation in the military nor with an ancestor since the Civil War who has, that I do not recognize what it means to give one’s all. There is no non-military person who has more respect for those who have borne arms in the service of our country than I have.
So, I have a suggestion for a very significant way to honor Veterans. Let’s have fewer of them! Let us spare more mothers viewing the corpses of their sons and daughters, even though draped with the Star Spangled Banner, with no future. Let us have fewer parents who see, through a film of tears, a precisely folded flag presented to them by a uniformed member of the Armed Forces at a graveside. Let’s have fewer wounded warriors with lives disfigured by amputations and brain trauma.
In my knee-jerk liberal way of looking at things, the best way to honor those who serve in our military is to have need for fewer and fewer women and men to do so. It is much more than our bowing heads to honor sacrifices, it is more honest and honorific to admit that we continue to be the largest supplier of arms and armed forces in the world. All too many of our forays in ‘defence of liberty’ are really strategies in pursuit of larger and larger boosts to our national GDP. We wage most wars to benefit our economy.
We may well be at a tipping point, perhaps even have already tipped, as a society with regard to the right to marry whomever one desires, with regard to the right to enjoy a ‘Rocky Mountain High,’ and with regard to recognizing women as fully equal to men in every aspect of their lives, but with regard to bellicose foreign policies, we are barely more advanced than speaking offensively and carrying a club.
If you really want to honor Veterans, let your Senators and Congressmen/women know that you want less military spending, except to care for those Vets we’ve already wrung the life from.