Like so many my age (a baby boomer), I find myself “sandwiched” between generations—and with a different attitude toward military service in defense of our country.
My father was a navigator in the U.S. Air Force, flying missions near the end of World War II and over Korea. His two brothers, my uncles, served in World War II as well—one was killed in Europe and the other died relatively young of complications from wounds received in the war.
Growing up in the ’60s, I would come to protest war rather than fight one.
So it was a surprise, to say the least, when my son signed up for the Oklahoma Army National Guard after getting a college degree. He eventually became part of its large contingent sent to the war in Afghanistan.
My son, Michael, served his tour as a foot soldier in one of the war’s more dangerous provinces, experiencing numerous engagements, retrieving the remains of fellow soldiers who were victims of a roadside bomb, and witnessing things he has struggled with, in various ways, since his return a few years ago.
Within three months of coming home, my son attended a handful of funeral services for comrades who took their lives after returning to the states.
As an ELCA pastor, I continue to struggle with issues related to military involvement in other countries andwith armed conflict in general. I haven’t been a proponent of our recent wars. But at the same time I have, as you might imagine, come to develop strong feelings concerning the country’s support—communities of faith included—of the troops sent to wage them.
Of course it’s about more than simply thanking those who put their lives on the line or displaying the flag on one’s lapel or even standing and singing the standard patriotic hymn on the Sunday closest to a national holiday.
Perhaps the church, especially, is being called to offer the veteran a safe place—indeed, worship space—to fearlessly address the often delicate spiritual and moral issues he or she is dealing with, sometimes long after the fact. As faith communities we, even more than Veterans Affairs, are gifted with the resources best able to accomplish this, meeting the warrior returning from battle with the message of reconciliation most needed.