My uncle John was a soldier in Korea and the war he experienced never left him until the day he died. He was young when he went to Korea and left his pregnant wife in Nebraska. His son was born while he served our nation overseas. John never really talked about his war experience but if you looked closely you could see that it marked him for life. He didn’t have any physical scars but he hated fireworks because they reminded him of war. If a car backfired as it drove past him he would jump and look worried. He would make a joke about it but I knew it bothered him. When he came to visit us after a devastating series of tornadoes destroyed our community we drove him and his wife around to see the damage and Uncle John just couldn’t contain his nervousness and so we cut the tour short because he was so anxious. He told me later that it bothered him because it looked too much like the war in Korea with all the destroyed homes and businesses. He was apologizing but I told him he didn’t need to. I know my aunt could have told of many more problems my uncle had but she never spoke of it, never! Uncle John brought back some horrible memories to deal with from his war experience but he brought back something more. As so many from his generation and the generation that experienced fighting in previous wars he came home with a good work ethic and a strong patriotic attitude. Uncle John worked hard all his life and provided a living for his family and did so with a great attitude. He also was proud to be an American and never took that for granted. He contributed to his community honestly and with integrity. He was always a soldier with a big smile and a positive attitude and I miss him. His family misses him too.
So many of those who fought in previous wars have passed away and this one weekend in America is set aside to honor them. It is Memorial Weekend and I want to celebrate by honoring the men and women who have served our country so well. I have so many friends and family members who have served this country in one of the armed services. Some have made it a career while others stayed for a few years. I have one family member who volunteered to go to Vietnam four times, now that took courage and he bears the emotional scars from that time in his life. He told me that he is the only one left from his circle of fighting buddies and he looked sad when he said this. He also said that ever soldier who goes to war has demons to contend with when they return home and sometimes the demons win. He said that he has made peace with his demons but it took most of his adult life to do so. I thanked him for his service. There was really nothing more that I could say except that I had prayed for him for years as did so many in our family but he already knew that.
I will never forget going to the funeral of a classmate’s brother who died fighting in Vietnam. It brought the war home to me in a way that I had never experienced before. I never knew Vincent Bernal but I stood at his funeral because there was no room to sit down. I will never forget seeing that large American flag draped across his casket and the stark reality that a young man had lost his life in an Asian country that was in the midst of chaos and turmoil. I will never forget the tears of his family and the profound loss they felt as their family was altered for eternity. He was a good son, a good brother, and loved by everyone who knew him and he was gone. So many parents and siblings and aunts and uncles and friends have stood at the foot of a casket with a flag draped over it for a war that was fought on foreign soil where their loved one gave his all. Thank you Vincent Bernal, I will never forget you even though I never knew you. You are not forgotten.
Memorial Day is so often celebrated casually as the unofficial start to summer. But that is not the purpose of this day. Today I want to honor the families who have an empty seat at the table because their soldier is gone. I want to say words of comfort but truthfully I can’t. So many people today just don’t understand the sacrifice of a soldier’s life for their freedom. So many don’t realize the price of freedom paid in blood and sweat and tears. History doesn’t talk about the cost of human lives in war. Many more soldiers come home than don’t but that doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering for the unseen scars are hidden sometimes for years. I hope you will stop and thank a vet today because they are always soldiers whether in uniform or not. Tell them you understand and appreciate their service to our nation. They will appreciate your thanks.
He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’ ” 2 Chronicles 20:15-17, (New International Version).
I always think about something an Army commander said to me once. He served in Vietnam and he said that whoever spends time in a foxhole with bullets flying overhead in the heat of battle never doubts that God exists. He said that you might go into a foxhole not believing in God but you never came out of one not believing. He said you are constantly praying to God asking for protection. He knew that his own faith grew because of that time in a wartime foxhole. I believed him. The battle belongs to the Lord and the outcome of war is always under God’s watchful eye. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have to do the work of war but it gives me courage knowing God is there. Evil always tries to triumph and that is why we have wars. It has been that way forever and we humans can only do our part in keeping evil from winning. It is our duty to our neighbors. While some think war is never to be I for one take the larger view of it all and realize that it is always going to happen as long as evil exists in our world. I am thankful for our soldiers and their families and I pray for their safety. A day like today reminds me to be thankful for those who gave their life for me to enjoy freedom.