Greater love has no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
I cannot even conceive of the courage that it must take to be a soldier. We all too often forget that many of our fellow citizens are in harm’s way in dangerous places even on this very day. They quietly pledge to protect our country and sometimes lose their lives in the process of doing a day’s work. Only last week a young man from Houston was killed in Jordan. He had attended Strake Jesuit High School and the University of Texas. He was known by his friends as someone who was fun and generous. He was bright and talented and had a whole lifetime of possibilities ahead of him and yet he chose to enter the military, an action that he felt was an honor and his duty. His friends and family grieve that he is gone and all of us should feel a sense of sorrow as well. It was for those of us that he never even met that he gave his life.
There were a couple of young men who went to my high school when I was there who died in Vietnam. One went to war shortly after graduating. He was a friendly fellow with an inviting smile. It broke my heart to hear of his death. The other soldier was brilliant. He had graduated from college and had a promising career but he wanted to help in the effort to maintain a democracy in South Vietnam. He too lost his life, a tragedy that touched me in a very personal way because his little brother was good friends with one of my siblings.
At the time that these two soldiers were killed it never occurred to me that theirs had been an act of love. I was too busy protesting the war and participating in rallies. I actually thought that they had been foolish to take part in the conflict. As the years went by I began to see their sacrifice as something sacred. I began to hold them in high esteem. When I visited the Vietnam wall on the National Mall I found their names and ran my fingers over the etching in the stone. I wept. I felt the love associated with what they had done. I spoke to their spirits and thanked them for their service to our country.
I came of age in an era of protest. I thought it noble and fitting to speak against a war that seemed unreasonable to me. It never occurred to me that it was so incredibly easy to do what I had done while the efforts of the soldiers who had been my classmates were monumental. It has been five decades since their passing. Their love of country inspires and humbles me.
I have a long time friend who served as a medic in that same war. I often think of the horrors that he must have seen as he fought to save lives. I suppose that I never expressed enough gratitude for what he did but I can imagine how important his efforts must have been to the soldiers who lived because he was there. I know that he never discusses those days. He came back far more serious and contemplative than he had been. His wife told me that he often had nightmares as he relived the battles and thought of the torn and bloodied bodies that he viewed.
We sit safely in our cities and towns and rarely think of what our fellow citizens of the military are doing. We complain about the unfairness of our country. We criticize and speak of being ashamed of our nation. We refuse to sing the national anthem or salute the flag. All the while the men and women of the Armed Forces are doing the heavy lifting that we don’t want to do so that we will have the freedom to make ourselves heard. They deal with uncertainties and danger as a matter of course. We all too often take them for granted, sometimes even neglecting them when they return home. Even worse is when we insult them by self righteously assuming that they are violent individuals who somehow deserve our scorn rather than our praise.
On this Veterans Day and everyday we should honor the present day military and those who once served. They are real heroes who deserve our highest consideration. They are mostly humble and silent about the work that they have done for you and me. They rarely bring attention to themselves. They will tell you that they were happy to be able to give back to the country and its people.
I see a great deal of whining in today’s world. People continuously complain about what they don’t have and tend not to count their many blessings. They take more note of slights than opportunities. They make degrading comments about our country, its leaders and our soldiers. They have little idea of how safe and secure they are because of the unseen, unsung men and women who are guarding us twenty four hours a day. They rarely think of our military if at all.
Take the time to remember our veterans and our Armed Forces today. Don’t just think of them. Thank them. They won’t ask for your gratitude but I can’t help but think that they will appreciate knowing that their efforts have not gone unnoticed. God bless them and their willingness to lay down their lives for friends that they don’t even know. There is no greater love.