By Wayne Von Stetten
My Veterans’ Day words could be called “Remembrances” since that is what Veterans’ Day should be all about- not necessarily a day for celebration and a day off work or school but a day to remember the sacrifices so many people have made. It should be a day that deepens the appreciation one feels for those who gave their lives so that we could live ours.
I would like to say first off that my remarks today aren’t intended to glorify war, those of us who have been in combat are the least likely to glorify war. Instead, my words today are designed to remind us of the ultimate sacrifices of nearly a million men and women who paved the way for the freedom we enjoy.
I would say sadly that these sacrifices seem to have been either forgotten or relegated to the back pages. Sadly, our society seems to know more about Tarps, Stimulus packages, Lindsay Lohan, Arnold Schwartzenager, i-pods, Facebook, Twitter, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, cash for clunkers and bail outs than about our nation’s history and the sacrifices of those who have kept us free. Many of those above terms are related to our nation’s economy and goodness knows the state of the economy is important, perhaps even critical, but so is the condition of our country’s moral compass. Relate this “get over it” car bumper sticker story…. My wife and I observed the ugly bumper sticker recently while driving home. The sticker said, “Hey, you Christians…. Get over it…. The guy died over 2,000 years ago.” No, I don’t ever want to “Get over it”! That’s what I mean when I refer to a tarnished moral compass. As a nation, we are in deep trouble if those kinds of immoral and blasphemous slogans prevail.
Remembering Our History
Often we have forgotten the Founding Fathers who sacrificed their lives, their fortunes and yes, their sacred honor to make America that beacon of hope for the world. Entirely too many of us have forgotten that freedom and liberty come with a price, a costly price. Freedom is never achieved without a price. I read recently of a suggestion to help us remember. The writer said, “If, while driving to the mall or the super market today, you pass a cemetery, stop and look for headstones that read, “Pfc., Cpl., or Sgt., World War I or World War II” or “Veteran of the Korean War” or “served in Vietnam.” Some headstones might carry the words “Killed in Action. (KIA) Look at each person’s name, pause and give thanks for his or her service to this great country. It just might be a Veteran’s Day you’ll always remember. Once again, we need to be reminded that Veterans’ Day is not just a day of celebration but a day of remembrance and giving thanks to those who served. Recently I heard an account of an incredulous experience a friend encountered when he visited the WWII Museum in New Orleans. A mother entered the museum with her ten-year old son and upon viewing the two displays at the entrance, showing the Axis and Allied representatives, she asked my friend to identify those countries comprising the Axis and the Allies so that she could explain it to her son. Upon learning the identifications of each, she uttered these incredible words,“Who won?
Teaching Our History
We often hear the words sacrifice, honor and liberty. They are sacred words, but often I wonder what they mean, especially to our younger generation? Do our young people know the meanings of these words? Do they know how freedom was achieved? – And at what cost? Let me share a thought with you. Call it a challenge, if you will, to all here who have grandchildren and/or great grandchildren: The late General of the Army Douglas McArthur once wrote, “It is our duty to take every opportunity to instill in the minds and hearts of our children what it means to be free and to be an American. What made America great? If we fail to teach them, who will? Many of our young people, through no fault of their own, simply don’t know what sacrifices have been made to give them freedom.” Nor do they know the stories of the people who made all this happen. Former President Reagan once wrote, “Freedom is always just one generation away from extinction. We don’t pass it along to our children in the bloodstream; we have to fight for it and protect it and then hand it to them so that they shall do the same. Or we are going to find ourselves spending our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children about a time when women and men were free.”
Have We Lost Our Perspective?
The last time I examined a contemporary U.S. History textbook, I noted that one paragraph was devoted to George Washington – imagine: One paragraph to describe the Father of our Country! Yet there were hundreds of words about contemporary music and the impact of Woodstock. Have we lost our perspective? Our generation, you and I, have an obligation to teach our children and grandchildren about our country’s wonderful history and what liberty and freedom are all about and how fortunate they and we live in America. In my humble opinion, this country rightly deserves to be called “exceptional” – a word not always welcomed today in some circles. From the first settlers to today’s immigrants, America has rightly been considered exceptional – the land of individual opportunity and not a land of haves and have-nots. I firmly believe that our Nation was part of God’s plan and that our Founding fathers were God-abiding men who gladly offered to carry out that plan, often at great risk to their lives and their fortunes. Do our young people know the Pledge of Allegiance and do they know that there are forces afoot to remove “under God” from the pledge? Do they know what political correctness means? Do our young people know that in some places in America today the singing of “Silent Night” and “Christmas Tree” are sung in German in order to disguise the words and thus not offend those of the secular world? Do our young people know who the Gold Star Mothers are? Do they know of Arlington National Cemetery? Do they know what the Purple Heart Medal represents? Do they know about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? -Or the meaning of the Medal of Honor? Here is a statistic I find significant: the U.S. State Department reports that virtually no one has made application to leave America yet millions have filed applications to come here. Why is that? I think I know the answer.
Unity and Respect
I recently learned that in Israel, their Memorial Day requires EVERYBODY to pause for two minutes to pay silent tribute to their war dead. No matter where one is – driving on an expressway or shopping or at home, or school. When the sirens blast, two full minutes are set aside to allow citizens to pause and pay their respects to those from their military who have given the last full measure of devotion. Perhaps that’s an impractical measure for Americans to follow. But I do know that there was a time in our country when citizens seemed to unite behind a cause. It’s sad to report, but we don’t seem to be united the way we once were. We saw some national unity after 9/11 and more recently in the tornado-stricken places in Missouri and Alabama and recently with Hurricane Sandy but sadly after several days or so, that unity will no doubt evaporate. The “me first” mentality seems to have taken over and permeated our society.
Two Love Stories
I wish to tell you about two love stories which tend to give one hope. I recently read a book, entitled “Once Upon a Town” –a marvelous book which tells the story of the citizens of a little town called North Platte, Nebraska. Perhaps you have heard of it. Author Bob Greene’s poignant story tells of the devotion and sacrifices of the people of this town and nearby communities – people who pulled together to make life a little better for the six million sailors, soldiers, marines and airmen who rode the rails of the Union Pacific Railroad during WWII en-route to battle zones in Europe and the Pacific. When their troop train stopped in North Platte for water and coal, these homesick and often frightened young servicemen visited the canteen in downtown North Platte for just a brief time ( 10 to 15 minutes) and enjoyed the hospitality and free food given at the canteen by the good people of North Platte. I think these kind folks were part of the Greatest Generation and they weren’t even in the military. It was a time for unity, commitment and sacrifice – a time that sadly we suspect will never be repeated. The story, “Once Upon a Town,” is a love story between a country and its sons. Today the railroad station is gone; however, there is a Walmart in North Platte. I heartily recommend the book. Another scene which touched my heart and warrants repeating came the day some years ago when my wife and I visited the Punch Bowl Cemetery in Hawaii. It was the day before Memorial Day and on that day we observed hundreds of girl and boy scouts from throughout Honolulu placing American flags on the graves of over 14,000 –mostly marines and sailors, and a few soldiers, including that greatest of all WWII correspondents, Ernie Pyle, pausing briefly at each grave for a moment of silent respect and a salute. It was a beautiful sight to behold and one I shall remember forever.
Remembrance – It’s Our Duty
I have spoken of sacrifice, devotion and freedom. Let me say again that sacrifice is never meaningful without remembrance. One of God’s most precious blessings is the blessing of remembering. It is our duty to remember our veterans and their service and devotion to the cause of freedom. And to teach our young about these sacrifices. We need to be reminded that there are thousands of American men and women today fighting the terrorists at this very moment in hostile places (in Afghanistan back in July the temperature was 110 degrees with horrific sand storms). As I said earlier, it is significant to note that the total of our current military fighting force represents but 1% of our nation’s population. One percent fighting to keep our country safe! It hardly seems fair. One has to wonder how involved the other 99% are?
Duty, Honor and Country
Each time I think of duty, honor and country, I am reminded of a painting which hangs in a corridor of the Pentagon. It’s a painting showing God speaking to Isaiah, wondering whom He should send to share the message of light to the people of Israel. Isaiah proudly says, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” Beneath that painting there appears an Air Force captain standing with his wife and two children. The captain says proudly, “Send me, Lord. I’ll go” Thank God there are such men. Where do we get such men? Each time I read or write these words, I am reminded of General Eisenhower who uttered similar words while visiting the men of the 82nd Airborne in England prior to their one o’clock AM takeoff on D-day, June 6, 1944. The general said over and over again that night, “Where do we get such men as these?”
Our Moral Compass
I am concerned today about the current welfare of our county. I’m afraid our moral compass is severely damaged or at least tarnished and even though America remains the best possible place on this planet to live, there are disturbing signs – signs that signify a lessening of unity, a lessening of caring and concern for the welfare and safety of our nation. We need to remember what it is to be an American. I can’t say that often enough! Perhaps a return to Nationalism would be welcomed.
Each time I ponder the welfare of our country, my thoughts go back to words spoken by my friend and fellow Columbian Wilson Bucher. I wonder how many remember his words spoken at a local 4th of July program in Columbia several years ago? Wilson said,“Today the question is not whether we are a great nation – that is conceded. The main question is whether Americans are a great people. Do we still have a passion of spiritual strength and character to see us through these trying days and years ahead? That is the question. Are we willing to return to reliance on God and His infinite wisdom, remembering that if our cause is just, worthy, ethical and pleasing to God… if it is, stick to it!”
And finally….I wonder how many here today know that our National Anthem is the only anthem in the world to end with a question. O say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave? Only we, our citizens, can answer that question.
My wish is that Veterans’ Day has special meaning for you, and that it becomes today and in future years a Day for Remembrance.
Wayne Von Stetten