By Endel Lee
ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) – Conversations I have with military veterans often follow a similar pattern and surface certain themes.
“When and where did you serve?” is usually a good starting point. Next, I usually inquire about memorable events or special persons encountered during a veteran’s season of service. This prompt might generate funny stories or very serious reflections.
In response to these expressions, I may find myself laughing at a hilarious retelling of a particular episode, or on the verge of tears (even crying at times) as a veteran honors me by sharing a glimpse of his or her life flavored by military service.
As such conversations continue, the focus typically meanders toward what motivated the person to join the military. Answers include a wide range of possibilities like “I had a friend in high school and we decided to join together” or “I joined for the incentives and benefits that would help me get a college education [or gain experience for a career]” and of course “I wanted to serve my country.”
No matter the reason(s) for joining, each veteran experienced some kind of separation from their loved ones and other sacrifices associated with military service.
Becoming a veteran starts with raising a right hand to offer an oath; it ends with receiving a piece of paper (called a “DD-214 Form”) rendering the length and quality of one’s military service. What happens between these two instances is full of challenge and adventure. Fulfilling one’s duty and completing the commitment to serve with honor requires devotion and courage. Success with these efforts should be considered among the noblest of gestures by our nation’s citizens.
Whether serving in times of peace or times of conflict and combat, such honorable service is critical to defending the Constitution and preserving our way of life. Expressions associated with life in our country such as “religious liberty, “freedom of speech” and “the right to defend ourselves”– mentioning only a few – do not flourish, or continue to exist for that matter, without those in society who are willing to serve honorably to protect such cherished ideals and the corresponding activities.
Whether discharged from a category of military service as an active duty member, a reservist, or a member of a state’s National Guard – whether in a fully intact condition, discharged for medical reasons, or laid to rest in a special place after making the ultimate sacrifice – completing military service honorably is the expectation for earning the title “veteran.” Veterans and their families recognize the values and costs associated with this term. Regrettably, many living in America today do not understand this term because they have not met or talked with a veteran to gain better insights.
Ernest P. Roy (USMC, KIA during the Battle of Okinawa), Walter C. Lee Jr. (USMC), Phillip E. Lee Sr. (USMC), Robert B. Johnson Sr. (USN), and Robert Charles Perkins (USANG) are the veterans in my immediate family. These five veterans served before I was born or while I was a very young boy. Yet, their legacy of service is savored amidst our family to this day. These men have been respected over the years for their example, expecting little in return for their service. Except for my Grandfather Roy who died in combat, each of these veterans have talked with me about their time in the military. As they aged, they also expressed how experiences serving in the military during their younger days were formative and helped shape their life and character.
Having served honorably, all veterans deserve respect and the simple recognition marked by the words, “Thank you for your service.” In return, you most likely will hear a humble reply: “It was a privilege and honor to serve,” reflecting the words of Proverbs 15:33: “The fear of the Lord is what wisdom teaches, and humility comes before honor.”
Hopefully, our intentional conversations will motivate a new generation to serve in our military or take the time to render respect and listen to our veterans. God knows they deserve it because they served honorably. May we who are serving today be counted among them one day!
Endel Lee serves as catalyst for church planting in military communities with the North American Mission Board. He also serves as senior chaplain in the Navy Reserve with over 36 years of combined military service.