As a chaplain for a veterans health care facility and an honor guard that recognizes military personnel, I’m devoted to respecting those who were willing to give their lives for our freedom, and it’s truly a privilege to spend quality time with the many fine men and women of our nation’s armed forces. In this month of remembrance, I believe it’s important to not only record and preserve their amazing accomplishments in battle but to also appreciate who they are as individuals.
I remember visiting a man named Edward Hicks who willingly stepped forward when his country needed him the most. He was only 22 years old and had just married his lovely bride, Mary Lou, four months earlier. He received the call to join the front line and bravely responded to what would be known around the world as “Operation Overlord.”
In 1918, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, a ceasefire was declared as the signing of the Armistice ended World War I. A year later, President Wilson declared Armistice Day as the soldiers who survived marched in hometown parades. In 1938 Armistice Day became a national holiday and then in 1971 under president Nixon it was established as Veterans Day, honoring all veterans. Though I did not serve in the military, I’m very proud of my son, who is a Marine and served with the Department of Homeland Security. He is now a police officer at a veterans hospital. Neither my father nor my grandfather served, but on my mother’s side of the family, it’s quite a different story.
My maternal grandfather Alvin fought in WWI and was in France. He was injured in the war and, according to my mother, he was never the same. They had seven children — three boys and four girls, and my mother was the baby. Like many families, all three sons eventually enlisted into the military. However, I thought it was even more unique how my grandfather and each of my uncles served in different wars. The father was in World War I; his oldest son was in Japan during WWII; the second son was killed in Korea in 1950; and the youngest son served in the Vietnam era. I vaguely remember two of these uncles and now realize they both suffered terribly from PTSD.
My mom was very close to her brother who died in Korea. His nickname was Kenny and after he graduated high school, he worked a little part-time job before he was drafted. She remembers that he would give her 10 cents every Saturday to buy some candy, which she looked forward to. He would also buy his mother flowers every week, and she would set them on the kitchen table. My mom recalls the terrible day when military representatives knocked on their door and told her mother that they were sorry to inform her that her son had been killed. He was only 20 years old. Her mother ran through the house wailing and screaming, “No, God, please no.” Everyone was devastated as her mother went to bed and stayed there for weeks.
The 24-note melancholy bugle call known as “Taps” is played at military funerals and memorial services to accompany the lowering of the flag and to signal the lights out command at day’s end. Here is a portion of the lyrics, “Day is done, gone the sun, from the lake, from the hill, from the sky. All is well, safely rest, God is nigh. Put out the lights, go to sleep, go to sleep.”
We live only a few miles from Camp Nelson National Cemetery and from the highway you can see rows of the over 12,000 perfectly lined white marble tombstones. When I drive past this sacred ground, I think how each of these individuals at one time or another accepted the call of duty. And what is that call? To fight against human injustice and the evil governments and philosophies of tyrannical dictators. Patrick Henry is quoted as saying, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.” The heart’s cry of a soldier is to defend and protect our freedom whatever the cost. Howard Osterkamp is quoted as saying, “All gave some — but some gave all” as we will never forget not only those who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice but especially for the ones who did.