Why I’m Thankful for Our Veterans

A confession: Veterans Day is not a holiday that usually ranks high in my awareness. There’s no tradition of family gathering, no feasting, and almost no special decorations or merchandising. Most people don’t even get the day off.

So, these reflections are partly a kind of penance. I want to compensate a bit for my customary Veterans Day obliviousness—and maybe help a few others do the same.

When I give it some thought, reasons to be thankful for veterans come quickly to mind. These are just a few.

1. I’m basically a coward.

I think it was Aristotle who taught that courage is one of the greatest virtues and that the courage of soldiers who go to battle is the highest form of that virtue. It involves the greatest risk for the least personal benefit.

The Bible associates courage with righteousness.

  • “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion” (Prov 28:1).
  • David to Saul: “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (1 Sam 17:32).
  • God to Joshua: “Be strong and very courageous, being careful to do all the law that Moses my servant commanded you” (Josh 1:7).

The connection to faith isn’t hard to see. Both David and Joshua faced war with the conviction that this was what God expected of them and that He would be present with them to achieve His purposes. (David, e.g., 1 Sam 30:6; Joshua, e.g., Josh 10:25).

I know—lots of people go to war without extraordinary courage or faith, and just find themselves in terrifying situations where training kicks in and gets them through. They don’t want to be called heroes, etc.

None of that changes the fact that I don’t have anything like the guts it would take to put myself in that situation in the first place. I do have fears of my own to face and overcome, but they don’t compare to the terrors of the battlefield. With stuff blowing up and lead flying and people dying around me, I’m pretty sure I’d just run and hide—training or no training.

2. My work is a whole lot less unfair.

A veteran of the Korean War made a disturbing remark to me one day. I don’t recall the context, but I remember his uncharacteristic intensity at that moment. I wish I could quote him. I can’t say it as well as he did. The gist, though, was this: Soldiers are just kids sent to face the deadly consequences of decisions made by old men, who don’t have to. That’s how it always is in war.

This came from a joyful guy. I miss him. At the time, I thought he was being bitter and cynical, but I’ve since read enough history to know there’s a lot of truth to what he said. He never seemed to question that the war was just and necessary. That didn’t make it fair to those fighting it.

Think about it: every soldier on a battlefield is there at that moment because of someone else’s orders. Every soldier who dies in war dies mostly because of someone else’s orders.

We’ve all had to deal with messes that resulted from poorly-informed decisions by people higher up on the org chart. But for all but a very few of us, those consequences have never included killing people or watching our friends die horribly. It does happen in law enforcement and some similar first-responder roles, but even for most of them, it’s rare.

There’s no unfair like battlefield unfair.

3. I barely know the meaning of sacrifice.

Sacrifice for a purpose greater than yourself takes many forms. I get that. I understand, too, that soldiers are sinners like everyone else. I’m told that, for many, the only motivation on the battlefield is the buddy next to them—nothing as lofty as truth, justice, and the American way.

Still, there’s no denying that these guys gave up an awful lot of the comforts we take for granted every day.

I’m a soft, flabby, spoiled office worker living a life of ease—because I can. There’s no army outside my door trying to take my town. I haven’t had to camp out for days or weeks (or years!) on some forward operating base, eating out of cans, rarely bathing, working all hours.

There are multiple reasons I’ve never had those experiences, but here’s one really big one: someone else had them instead of me.

Sacrifice.

These words from Paul the apostle weren’t meant to teach us about war and soldiering. They reference what everybody at the time already knew to be true about the soldier’s life. It entails giving up things.

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.

4. I don’t “deserve” my safe, cushy life.

Do I have a God-given, “unalienable right” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?

Something seems off there. In a way, nobody deserves life, liberty, and happiness. We don’t even live up to our own ethical standards, much less those of our Maker. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23)—over and over and over. So what we deserve is to be required to pay for that.

Still, the Declaration of Independence isn’t incorrect about unalienable rights. There, a “right” has to do what other mere humans are not entitled to take from you. The fact that I don’t deserve life, liberty and happiness doesn’t mean you—or the government—deserve to deprive me of them.

We’re all in the same “undeservingness” boat.

But that means those who go and fight in war don’t deserve to be there more than I do. It means I don’t deserve my comfortable, safe life here at home more than they do.

So, veterans, I know most of you don’t think you’re anything special.

All the same, thanks!

Photo: Eric Ward on Unsplash.

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There are 2 Comments

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron, I'm in a similar situation to you in that I have never had to serve in the armed forces.  However, seeing military around me has always been part of my life, as my dad was career Army, including two tours in Viet Nam.  He just passed away this year (the day before Independence Day), and although my family has always recognized Veteran's Day, this year it takes on a little more significance.  In fact, my Mom's brother (a Navy veteran, though not career-long), just passed away a week ago, and I'll be heading across the country to his funeral on Sunday.

As a kid, if it hadn't been for my Dad in the Army, I would probably have not thought about our veterans much either, as many of the families we knew (and most in my church growing up) were non-military.  Now, as I get older and many of the members of my family who served are passing away, it comes home to me just how much they have sacrificed.

Thank you for writing this!

Dave Barnhart

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Thanks, Dave.

I'm already working on a part two for next year I think....   I wanted to share more bits of conversations. Ran out of time.

I haven't had close family in the military, but several church friends. I have especially fond memories of the stories a WWII vet shared. He had developed a pretty dark sense of humor about it all. But... well, I've got a bit of a dark sense of humor myself (I usually just smile and don't verbalize. It's an acquired taste!). So it was fine with me. Loved that guy. Wish now I had spent more time with him.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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